It's not enough, in this age of technology, to simply know how to read books-we have to know how to read new forms of electronic media, too. Media literacy is not so different from the traditional print literacy that parents already value. The trick is to analyze the information, evaluate its usefulness, and respond or reply to it. Kids especially need to learn these skills at some point children must practice decision making about media for the times that you aren't around to guide them. Here are 10 ideas that you can use to build your children's media literacy skills. 1. Don't hesitate to censor media that violates your family's values. Censorship is a loaded word, but censoring is an appropriate act for parents and teachers of young children. Reject media that violates your family's values and establish guidelines your children can follow. And though you can't eliminate the presence of all junk media, you can use it as a teaching opportunity to explore and contrast you family's values against those messages conveyed through media.
2. Emphasize the programming, not the medium. TV is a poor reward for good behavior. By rewarding children with generic television watching, you risk placing more importance on TV than it deserves. To combat generic television watching, use a VCR to tape the quality programs you like. Also, develop a media use plan with your family. By using colored markers to highlight quality programs in the TV listings, you can provide your children with a visual reference of programs that are acceptable to watch. Even if you don't stick to the plan, your kids will get the message that it's important to choose programs, not just watch television.
3. Respect your child's culture. Separate issues of taste from issues of harmful media content. As parents of any teenager will attest, it is only natural that children will love media that you hate. It is important for children to explore their own tastes and learn to make decisions about that they like and don't like. The purpose of media literacy is not to protect children from the toxic waste of media, but to teach them to analyze and evaluate the information provided by media.
4. Deconstruct media. Media are not windows on the world or mirrors of society; they are carefully constructed products with economic, political, social and cultural implications. Discuss how books, television, and billboards are put together. Since children spend so much time with television, they probably know quite a lot about its codes and conventions, although they may not yet have the vocabulary to articulate their knowledge. Together, parents and children can discuss why producers, writers, and directors may have made certain decisions.
5. Question all media. By questioning the media, children learn to question information every time it's presented to them, analyze and evaluate it for themselves, and think independently. Ask children questions that, delve deeper than the story's plot. Look at the way media are manufactured for specific purposes. For example, watch the credits and ask who produced the program, or how may people worked on a film. Why did the director use certain production techniques? How are cartoons made? Who is the audience for their favorite picture book?
6. Recognize media stereotypes. Even though stereotypes rule the media root, experts caution against prematurely raising disturbing questions about negative racial or gender stereotypes. Without context, bringing up societal inequities could erode a young child's emerging self-esteem. Teaching about stereotypes is similar to teaching about sex-there is no need to become explicit before a child is ready. But when asked about media stereotypes, you'll know it is time to have a serious talk.
7. Request media literacy programs in schools. Media literacy is mandated in the school curriculum of most developed countries in the world-except in the United States. If you child's school uses media during the day, you might suggest ways that teachers can teach about media as they use it. Your local public telvision station might offer courses in instructional television for teachers, too.
8. Lights. Camera. Action! Take a creative, hands-on approach to media literacy and encourage your children to create their own videos, books, newspapers, magazines, comic books, or posters. If you own a video camera, your children can write, direct, and act in their own "television" programs. In developing their projects, you children will be exposed to the codes, conventions, and languages of media, which will help them better analyze mass media products.
9. Form a media literacy study group. Parents around the country are forming study groups though their churches, community centers, and PTAs to learn ways to approach media education.
10.Keep you patience. Though media education is more work for parents, this slow process has its rewards. It teaches children to think critically about all information-a skill that will enable a child to become a more productive, fulfilled, and independent adult. This is something worth remembering next time your child interrupts your favorite program with 15 questions about why or how something is being done.
Kathleen Tyner is founder of Strategies for Media Literacy and co-author of Media & You: An Elementary Media Literacy Curriculum.