Why Is Media Literacy Important?
The influence of the media should not be underestimated. By mid-adolescence, teens
have watched many thousands of hours of television—more time than they spend with
teachers in school. Add to that figure the hours devoted to surfing the Internet,
playing video games, watching videos and DVDs, listening to the radio, and attending
movies, and the media’s effect becomes clear.
By helping our teens become media literate, we can help protect them from pressures
from advertising and other media forms to smoke, drink, use drugs, have sex, or
eat unhealthy foods. We also can help them build communication skills, encourage
them to consider multiple interpretations of media messages, put portrayals of themselves
and others in perspective, and improve media use habits, such as changing ritualistic
viewing behaviors. In addition, we can improve the media use habits of the entire
family and promote more proactive behavior among all family members.
Media literacy is not media bashing; the goal is not to ridicule the media. Media
are dominant forces in our culture and an important part of our teenagers’ lives.
Media should be evaluated fairly, not denigrated. Media literacy is also no silver
bullet or magic wand; it will not instantly solve all of our problems. But it is
our best defense in resisting manipulation and keeping a perspective on the images
and messages that are a part of media and youth culture.
As you employ these skills at home, remember that the heart of media literacy
lies in the discussion. There are many activities that you can do with your children,
but nothing is more important than talking with them about what we watch, hear,
and read. Keep discussions relaxed; this takes the pressure off of
teens to get the “right” answer. Draw out their ideas and guide them to critically
examine what they see and hear. Remember to keep probing the answer, as this helps
young people expand their thoughts. This helps them focus and helps us understand
how they perceive what they view. It doesn’t matter so much what questions you ask;
the important thing is to get youth to express and challenge what they see and hear.
Young people can learn how to read between the lines so that they can understand
exactly what music videos, movies, and other forms of communication that reach youth
are saying to them. The
media literacy ladder
is a good way to organize the discussion.