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What Are the Most Effective Ways for Parents to Teach Children Media Literacy?

By Dana Hinders ; Updated June 13, 2017

To develop media literacy, children must learn how to analyze the many media images they are exposed to and come to a conclusion about the accuracy of the information being presented. Parents can help this process by promoting an active discussion in the home of the effect of the media.

Advertising and the Consumer Culture

Learning how to identify advertising is one of the first media literacy lessons most parents teach their children. For young children, little difference exists between commercials and their favorite TV programs. According to Understand Media, an online resource for media education, framing lessons by analyzing ads for candy, toys and fast food restaurants is the best way to make media literacy interesting for your child. Watch TV with your child and point out the commercials for items that might be of interest to your child. Explain that commercials are designed to make people want to buy products, regardless of whether they need them. Show your child how to research a major purchase, such as buying an expensive toy, by searching for product reviews and using other consumer resources outside of commercials.

Violence in the Media

Much remains unknown about any link between exposure to violence in the media and violent behavior in life,, but this issue is a concern for many parents. Because you can't completely eliminate the chances your child will witness media violence, you must teach him how to think critically about the images he is seeing. Seek out media with examples of characters who solve problems without resorting to violence and ask your child to come up with ideas of how the characters in his favorite movies, TV shows, or video games could solve their problems without violence. If your child is acting aggressive after seeing a particular show, however, PBS recommends moving the TV into a communal location in your home so you can properly supervising his TV viewing.

Sexuality in the Media

Even if sexuality in the media makes you uncomfortable, you must take the time to help your child learn to evaluate the images he is seeing. Point out airbrushed models in magazines to demonstrate how the media creates unrealistic perceptions of beauty. Discuss how the couples on your child's favorite TV show relate to each other and whether this represents a healthy relationship. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that parents find news stories to illustrate the consequences of sexting and discuss how messages or photos a child sends to a friend can fall into the wrong hands.

Responsible Media Use

With Netflix, Facebook, Twitter and video games competing for a child's attention, it's easy for kids to slip into the pattern of choosing screen time over physical activity or focusing on their school work. Explain to your child that media use can be fun, but that moderation is key. Set limits for media use in your household, including limits for adults. Children learn through observing their parents, so set a good example by turning off the TV to go for a walk or work on a home improvement project. At the Center for Media Literacy, Rosalind Silver recommends having your family go on a "media diet" for one week to see what each family member learns from eliminating screen time.

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