Media literacy: the basics
Media literacy is about having the skills to access, understand, question, critically analyse, evaluate and create media, such as DVDs, photographs, print and online content.
Children and teenagers who are media literate are more aware of the way media content is made and where it comes from. They’re more confident about voicing their own opinions about media. They’re also safer online and less likely to be manipulated by the media.
Basic media literacy covers issues such as:
- understanding and making judgments about content
- the effects of media ownership on the way information is presented
- staying safe.
Your 21st-century child also needs extra literacy skills when it comes to the media.
This is because young people aren’t always digitally literate, even though they might be technology-savvy from a young age. They might know how to use remote controls and mobile phones, search the internet, create their own blog or upload onto YouTube. But just as they need to learn to speak, read and write the language of media, they also need to learn how to read and analyse digital messages.
To do this, your child needs online media-savvy skills such as the following.
This means knowing how to use computers, web browsers, software programs and applications.
This includes understanding how a search engine, such as Google, ranks search results, and being able to work out who has created a website (that is, the difference between .com, .gov and .org sites). Working out whether the information is based on expert or amateur opinion, and whether information is from a reliable source, is also important. So is identifying marketing, advertising and scams on the web.
This is knowing the difference between types of communication on the internet, including online chat and chat rooms, social networking, multiplayer games, blogs and discussion forums. These all have their own formal and informal rules.
Creative and visual literacy
This is being able to create and upload online content, understand how online visual content is edited and constructed, and understand copyright.
Media and digital literacy skills are more effective at keeping your
child safe online than internet filtering software. You can read more
ideas for keeping children safe online in our articles on cybercitizenship
for teenagers and internet safety
for younger children.
Helping your child become media and digitally literate
Becoming media and digitally literate yourself is a great start to the process. Getting familiar with media in general, and how different media are made, will help you guide your child.
By encouraging your child to question what she watches and reads in the media, you can help her sort out facts from opinion, identify advertising and product placement, understand bias, be aware of the misuse of statistics, make judgments about quality and identify media scams. She should also be aware that she doesn’t have to just accept everything she comes across in the media as ‘fact’ or ‘truth’.
You might like to encourage your child to ask himself questions about media content. For example:
- Is this newspaper article a report or an opinion column?
- Who paid for this magazine page about this new product?
- What sources of information did the author use in putting this piece together?
The media and a lot of internet content is owned, and media ownership influences published content and points of view.
All media content is edited and constructed – in other words, some things have been included and other bits have been left out. Even the news (which you might think of as the ‘facts’) reflects the way editors, directors, producers and media owners see the world – after all, some things make it on to the news and some don’t. You and your child could look at different news services to check out the differences in the way they report things. Or you could ask your child why she thinks different media content (on the TV or internet, or in magazines and newspapers and so on) uses certain images, music and words, and what messages these help to convey.
You might also like to talk with your child about points of view that differ from those in whatever TV program or newspaper article your child’s watching or reading, or in advertising.
It can also be helpful to model your own media and digital literacy for your child. Discuss your choices with him – for example, why you choose certain TV programs or websites, or how you respond to advertising. This will give you the chance to reinforce your family’s values and beliefs while teaching your child to question what he hears and sees in the media.
We all take different meanings from media messages, depending on our backgrounds, interests and values. We are many audiences, not just one. For example, one person might think something is funny, but somebody else might see it differently.
Talking with your child about what advertising is and what it’s trying to do you can help your child learn the difference between advertising messages, and other media messages that are designed to entertain, inform or educate. For example, you could pick out an ad in a magazine or on TV. Ask your child to think about who’s behind it, and what they want you to think about the brand or product.
The internet can bring the best and worst information that’s out there into your home. So you and your child need to be able to sort the good from the bad. The following ideas might help:
Search the internet together. You might use a few search engines, try different search words, and talk about which websites contain the best or most useful information and why. Also encourage her to look beyond the first link in search results.
Talk about the different kind of websites. Does the web address end in .com, .org or .gov? Look into what these mean together.
Encourage your child to be careful about what he clicks. Many sites contain ‘pop-ups’ or animated advertising that entice you to ‘click here’ by promising free products or money. These are generally scams and can contain computer viruses.
In Australia, there are official bodies that regulate and censor the media to ensure that the public is protected from content that is illegal or offensive.