Q: We are a homeschooling family who has decided to exclude media from our daughters’ lives until they turn 7. Our daughters have never watched TV and have never seen an advertisement, movie, YouTube clip, etc. Our eldest is turning seven in June, and we want to introduce her to media though a media literacy curriculum or activities. Can you direct us towards a quality program?
~Looking for Literacy, Carbondale, CO
A: Dear Literacy,
Your impulse to introduce media literacy at the same time that you introduce media is a great one! At whatever age kids start using media, whether it be as a preschooler or a tween, it’s essential for them to learn to think critically about the stories, images, and ideas they see and hear.
And your decision to introduce screen media at age 7 is supported by developmental psychology research which has shown that it is around this age that children develop the cognitive ability to recognize “persuasive intent” – that commercials are trying to get them to buy a product – and to distinguish fantasy from reality in what they see on screen. As they initiate their screen media use, it is really important that you watch with them, observe how they respond, and discuss the issues that are brought up, teaching, and perhaps more importantly, modeling critical thinking for them.
At this time, I don’t know of any research-based, proven media-literacy curricula for home schooling. Make sure that any program you use focuses on critical thinking and can be applied to all media (like books, video games, magazines, movies, and more). Look here for some ideas:
Use these sources for educational strategies as you teach them to become literate, prosocial digital citizens. This is not dramatically different than what you are already teaching them, it is just transposed to the digital environment. Although they have not yet been exposed to electronic screens, they are already experienced consumers of media. The books they read, magazines at the grocery store, billboards on the highway, and advertisements emblazoned on their own or their friend’s clothes can be a useful entry point for talking about messages that they will see on screen media. Ask them to identify messages in their environment that are designed to persuade them of something, then ask how they respond to those messages – first immediately, then after they have thought about them for a while. Work with them to deconstruct those messages by asking the 5 key questions of media literacy:
- Who created this message and what did they want it to do?
- What techniques are used to attract your attention?
- What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented?
- How might different people interpret this message differently?
- What is omitted from this message?
Once your daughters have experience with messages they already know, they will be better prepared to do so with the screen messages they experience in the future.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,