Media and information literacy is one of the most overlooked elements of any language arts program, and yet one of the most important as digital technologies continue to impact nearly every aspect of our lives. Digital competence is a 21st century learning skill our kids will need as they grow up in an age of rapidly advancing technology.
So what is media literacy?
The ability to read and write defines the concept of “literacy”; when we study media literacy, we are talking about being able to identify and understand different media and their messaging. Prior to the proliferation of the internet, media literacy covered television, magazine, radio and newspapers. Today, thanks to the multitude of platforms from Instagram to WhatsApp to TikTok - not to mention the rise of fake news and the fact that nearly anyone can create and share media - there is so much more media kids must learn to deconstruct and understand.
Which brings us to the next important point - with so many sources creating media and sharing information that may or may not be credible, our kids need to be better equipped to consume and create it. Without a critical eye, we risk our kids taking what they read and see on digital platforms at face value.
Why Digital Media Literacy is so Important
Digital media literacy is so important because so much of what kids watch and read comes from the internet. Gone are the days where a family watched a single TV screen containing what a parent or guardian chose; many of today’s kids have their own IPads, phones and tablets, sometimes watching multiple screens at the same time. Your child picks any video of their choice, and unless you are monitoring them it’s hard to tell what kind of messaging they are receiving.
When our kids learn how to be critical consumers and thoughtful creators of digital media, they are empowered to understand the world they live in and develop balanced, informed perspectives and will know how to identify quality information and fake news. They will be less susceptible to advertising, read the news with a critical eye, and question their own bias. Students who are digitally media literate understand internet safety, can create eye-catching content, produce digital products, and have the skills to work in the careers of the future.
Despite the importance of digital media literacy, schools and educators are only starting to truly incorporate it into their curriculum. This article explores some ways you can get the learner in your home thinking critically about digital media and motivated to create digital products responsibly.
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How to Support Digital Media Literacy in your Home
Talk to your Kids about the Internet
It may seem obvious, but take the time to learn what your kids are engaging with on the internet and discuss it with them. So much of life takes place online right now, from socializing to movie-watching and even concert-going - virtual reality is becoming less a representation of reality than it is real-life. When you build a rapport around online activities, your kids will feel comfortable talking about what they are actually doing on their devices.
Having regular discussions about what happens online (in addition to in-real-life activities), you help your kids become more media literate as they will summarize what they are consuming and even start analyzing content as you ask them questions. Who are they following on Instagram or Tiktok? Did they see the latest news story in their feeds? Do they follow etiquette when interacting with others online? What was the last thing they read online? What do they like about the game they are playing? Who are the characters in the video they are watching? Media literacy education is important.
Get your kids comfortable talking to you about the content they consume and the apps they are using, and you will have a stronger relationship with your child. And of course, don’t forget to share what you are doing online - it’s only fair that they know too!
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Teach your Kids the Importance of Privacy
Part of being digitally literate is understanding digital security - what privacy means in a virtual environment. Privacy underlies our digital experiences: the more we share about ourselves, the more information we give out, the more exposed we are to the interests of others, commercial or otherwise.
Staying safe online should be one of the earliest lessons you teach. Younger kids will benefit from knowing that they should not ever give their names online or interact with strangers. Older kids that play video games or engage with social media should also know who it is safe to engage with, and why it’s dangerous to share information with strangers.
Your kids should know that their digital footprint matters, and that advertising is targeted based on the sites they visit or the social media profiles they engage with. Take opportunities to point out to your kids what internet advertising looks like, and what companies might do if you provide them with an email address or contact information. Consider using apps that help you control and monitor what happens online in your home so you are aware of what your kids are doing on their personal devices.
Let’s face it, social media has changed the way we make relationships and has dramatically increased our networks. On the positive side, kids can meet and follow other kids from all around the world through different platforms. They can express themselves creatively, quickly and easily produce content, learn new things, and connect to news articles. The negative side is we don’t know exactly who the people they meet are, which opens up a lot of privacy risks, and kids may not always be equipped to discern credible information.
Help your kids become social media savvy by making sure they know what healthy social relationships are, and who they should not befriend on social media. Explain the difference between private and public accounts, and what kind of photos or videos are OK to post. Remind them that they need permission to post photos of others. Finally, make sure that they know who to turn to if they are cyberbullied, what to do if someone post pictures of your child without permission, and how to block people they don’t actually know from messaging them directly.
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Show your Kids how to Develop a Positive Digital Persona
Everything we do on the internet goes on a record, and it’s important for your kids to know that their actions online can impact their futures. Teach your kids the importance of showing their best selves online, and to think carefully before posting anything. Caution your kids against posting too much, when they are emotional, or choosing to engage in conflict with others in a virtual environment. Remind them that they will one day have to apply to university, a job, a loan, and that they will want to leave a positive digital footprint.
Teach Your Kids to be Critical of the Media
The internet has made it easier for everyone and anyone to be a media creator, which can make it hard to discern reliable information from “fake” or heavily biased news media perspectives. Your kids need to learn what to look for, and how to check the veracity of information or the credibility of the creator.
Many schools use the acronym CRAAP as a checklist for identifying reliable sources:
C- currency: the timeliness of the information
R- relevance: how the info fits your needs
A- authority: the source of the info
A- accuracy: the reliability and correctness of the info
P- purpose: the reason the info exists
By using these look-fors, show your kids how to evaluate media critically. Show your kids how to check the ‘about us’ section of a site to learn more about an organization, look for signs that a website is mainly an advertising site (and that their news might be to attract eyeballs), and check if the story they are reading has been reported on by multiple news sources.
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Show your Kids how to Create Media
It’s important for your kids to be creators of media too - it’s a 21st century skill that will serve your kids well into their careers. Knowing how to adapt and navigate different digital platforms is also important for your kids to understand, as is troubleshooting technical issues.
Show your kids how to take and edit photos, use desktop publishing apps from Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, and show your kids how to have fun with digital media safely. If you post anything on the web, make sure they know how important it is to know who will be able to see it, and not to give any information that suggests exactly where they live or go to school.
Web pages, sites, and social media posts are just a few things your kids can use to create digital content. Show your kids how to use digital tools for their projects, or let them show you how they are creating a digital product so you can understand what they are doing. Have fun and let their creativity shine through!
Get a Literacy Tutor to Help
If you are unfamiliar with a lot of technology or just aren’t sure where to start, don’t be afraid to ask. Find a tech-savvy relative to show your kids, or have a talk with the teachers or principal at your kids’ school to see if they can support. Parent council might be able to bring in a guest speaker, or there might be a particularly media smart staff member that can lead an initiative at the school. Plenty of websites like Media Smarts or Common Sense Media can also help you understand digital media literacy - a quick search can lead you to some amazing resources that can help you navigate the virtual world.
You can also find a tutor who is experienced in Edtech, teaching literacy, and digital communication to help your child. A private tutor can meet with your child at a convenient time to teach literacy skills on the internet in addition to any other subject your child needs help in. They can incorporate digital elements into your child’s learning, and collaborate with you to determine what kind of learning your child needs most.
To find a tutor near you, check out Superprof, an international tutoring site that has been helping students learn all over the world. Find a tutor on Superprof today!
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