Why Media Literacy is Important for Parents

Written by Jessie Curell

So much of the information we are connected to and consuming online is media—the plural of “medium”—where a friend, writer, host, influencer, videographer, photographer, or creator sends us media content through a video on Youtube, an article or blog (such as this one I’m writing to you now), a photo on Instagram, or a newspaper article to you—the audience. Our consumption of media is increasing at a staggering rate as our phones and laptops become faster and more capable, while our appetite for these connections and new information also rises.

And our young children are active participants–learning and connecting digitally right along with us.

Which is why we all–children and parents included–need the Media Literacy skills to access, evaluate, analyze, and even produce media. Without the media literacy education teaching both adults and students to be critical thinkers, we are easily susceptible to believing anything anyone tells us while letting our devices rule our lives. Misinformation is rapidly becoming one of society’s biggest concerns, leading to huge populations believing false claims with zero scientific proof, conspiracy theories exploding in popularity, and others scammed out of thousands of dollars by people with false identities.

I recommend listening to the recent NYT podcast “Facebook vs. The White House” to get a sense of how massive misinformation has become.

We need to be as media and digitally literate as possible for our own protection, autonomy and empowerment to change the world in this digital age. As parents of pre-K children, It’s important to remember that we also serve as important media literacy role models for our children. We need to be mindful of the quality and types of media we are consuming, just as we are mindful of the quality of food we are ingesting each day. And similarly to food, we need to be mindful of just how much media we are consuming. Our devices and the internet are incredibly convenient, powerful tools at our disposal. Being mindful that the time spent engaging with these platforms is healthy and balanced, just like the dinner we serve up each night, is one that we sometimes don’t consider.

What are Media and Digital Literacy skills exactly?

For the next several months I will be digging into this. I’ll be defining media literacy and core concepts of digital citizenship, and reviewing ways that we as parents can be role models in this area, not only for our pre-kindergarten children, but also for our families, & our communities. Teaching young children through fun digital literacy activities, discussions, and hands-on creation ideas can be a delightful and engaging activity for both parents and kids. Children learn by doing, and by learning how to create their own media projects, they will also be learning critical thinking skills and digital citizenship skills such as responsible digital creation, contribution, suggestion, and expression.

Children are exposed to many media forms, and consume media messages at increasingly younger ages. More and more children of preschool age have access to smartphones and tablets and learn to access streaming content sometimes even before they can speak. Children need to learn media and digital literacy skills now to understand the role of media as they consume it. I will be showing you how to learn together in fun, creative ways!

Setting a good example

You know that feeling when your phone loses connection to the network? When you first start trying to refresh different apps, turning the cell data off and on, off and on, maybe even turning your phone off entirely, to restart it in the hopes that will solve the problem? This familiar experience shows us just how used to being connected we all have become in the last 10 years. When we are kicked off or disconnected, we exhibit withdrawal symptoms akin to a drug or alcohol.

Children can (and do) also experience the same anxieties related to media saturation and the separation of media. As parents, we may have witnessed a negative reaction from our children when we take back our phones or put away the iPad. We may not always recognize that these reactions are something that we may be fostering and reinforcing with our own behaviour.

It’s important to also recognize that the consumption of media is not a negative thing. No matter where we are in the world, we can be connected to each other via text message, social media, email, and other platforms. Digital maps help us navigate our way to new and often familiar places. Being connected to the internet for information and answers to any and all of our questions helps us to understand the world around us, and being always connected to our cameras to capture each passing moment or special meal helps us share our experiences with others. But the ability to identify balance is an important part of media literacy, and it’s one that we need to learn and observe ourselves because our children glean much of their own habits from watching us.

All media is created and curated

To begin your critical thinking and media literacy journey as parents, the Centre for Media Literacy lists 5 key Media Literacy questions for us to ask when we are receiving any piece of media, whether that be a news article, textbook, radio show/podcast, video, or advertisement:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently than me?
  4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

As someone who is media literate, you pause to reflect on these questions for a few moments, allowing yourself time and space to consider if you agree, can believe what you are reading/seeing/hearing, or if you might want to do a bit more research. For example, one tip we suggest when verifying any news article or piece is to “triangulate” the source—do three other reliable news sources say the same thing? If so, chances are good that the information can be believed.

Now pause and reflect upon your children. How old are they? Are they consuming media now? What kind of media? Would it be important for them to understand to ponder and ask these questions? Are you a part of their triangulation?

I’d love to hear from you: What are your Media & Digital Literacy questions and needs as a pre-K parent? Email me at jessie@handsonmediaeducation.com.

To learn about our non-profit Hands On Media Education, please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @handsonmedia and visit our website: www.handsonmediaeducation.com.

Jessie Curell

Jessie Curell is a Digital Media Literacy advocate and Founder of Hands on Media Education. She is dedicated to empowering educators, youth, parents, teams, and nations with the skills to thrive in the digital world. Jessie is a well respected and leading voice in media literacy in Canada and has been building media literacy strategies and programs for students, educational institutions, and leaders for over 15 years. Whether responding to a crisis related to safety and security or building preventative educational strategies for schools and organizations, she shares her knowledge, strategies and best practices to build resiliency through creativity.

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