Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parents can teach media literacy

The North American House
Hippo exists... right?
Move media literacy up on your curriculum.

The world for kids today is increasingly packed with messages from the media that are contradictory, confusing and overwhelming.

(By media, I mean primarily advertisers, news organizations and the Internet.)

Media literacy—being able to make sense of what advertisers and news organizations are telling us—has been moved up on the curriculum in many school boards, including the massive Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Parents should also move it up on their “curriculum.” There’s a lot you can do to give your kid a basic foundation in media literacy that will help prepare him to navigate a world full of ad messages, hidden agendas and conflicting ideas.

When you’re walking down the street, point out some ads and talk about them:
For younger kids—Talk about the actual words and pictures on the ad. Ask basic questions like, “why is there a picture of a hamburger on that poster?” “What is being sold?” “How much are they selling it for?”

For older kids—“Who do you think they’re targetting with that ad?” “How much do you think the company spent on that ad? Why?”

Open up a newspaper with your child:
For younger kids—Show them that there are different sections to a newspaper. Explain what a headline is for. Talk about some of the pictures. (Note: It’s tempting to turn to the comics page, but ironically most comics will be too obscure for young kids, so you’re probably better off with Sports or Lifestyle.)

For older kids—Focus on a specific story. Pick one from a section that interests them; perhaps Sports or Fashion. But don’t shy away from current events or politics, either. If there’s an election in your area, explaining what an election is, and who’s up for election can be one of the most engaging conversations you have with your child.

When you’re watching TV, talk to your kids about the program they’re watching. Talk to them about actors and make-believe. Take them mentally out of the program and “behind the camera,” where the show is actually created.

Here’s a great place to start: the North American House Hippo
It’s a one-minute TV “commercial” created by a non-profit group, Concerned Children’s Advertisers. It advertises “the North American House Hippo,” a supposed nocturnal, rodent-like creature.

The message at the end of the ad is that of course there’s no such animal, but didn’t the ad make you feel as if the hippo really existed?

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