These days, it often feels like kids are born with smartphones already in hand. Those tiny, nimble fingers are quick to learn exactly how to swipe around on phones and tablets. Not even computer keyboards can escape their sticky little digits. However, teaching this tech-native generation how to be tech-savvy regarding safety and media literacy is another matter.
Thanks to implementing many parental controls and supervision apps, parents can oversee what their kids do online. But it’s still fairly impossible to control everything a child sees and interacts with online, especially as they get older. Misinformation abounds, friends and school devices are uncontrollable factors, and it’s all too easy to land somewhere on the web that’s unsafe.
That’s why it’s become crucial that parents take on the task of teaching their kids how to consume media responsibly. How to think critically and wade successfully through the deluge of “fake news” and conspiracy theories are important skills now. Let’s take a look at some of the ways parents can approach media literacy with their kids.
1. Start With the Basics Early On
Even though there’s a lot of strong debate about when kids should be exposed to electronics and media, many kids start using devices early on. According to one study cited in Time magazine, parents start to expose their kids to electronics as early as six months old.
That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though, considering how much technology now forms a part of everyone’s lives. Of course, children will interact with the TV and all other devices scattered around the house sooner rather than later. But that’s why it’s just as important to start teaching them about what they’re interacting with early on.
It can start as simple as teaching them the difference between fantasy and reality on television shows and online videos. For example, point out that the people in a TV show or an ad are just actors playing a role, much like when they pretend-play to be someone else. It’s important to start laying that foundation to have a more natural evolution to the complex discussions.
2. Different Opinions and Viewpoints
Children taught to critically consume media understand that there may be different meanings to the words and pictures they see on-screen. According to professor Vivian Maria Vasquez from the School of Education at American University, this helps children learn how to make better-informed decisions. Because they are more capable of articulating what they believe and why.
Showing a child that they shouldn’t blindly believe everything mentioned online also helps prevent some dangerous naivety. Children often believe that when an adult says something, especially with authority, it must be the truth. That makes them targets for criminal and predatory behavior in addition to misinformation.
Also, teaching them about different opinions and the way people interact online can help prevent future heartache. For instance, the anonymity of the web leads to a lot of things people wouldn’t normally say to each other in person. It can help them understand these opinions aren’t an accurate reflection of the world or other people.
The same goes for articles and posts. Teach them that a credible story will provide quality sources to back up any claims. It could be helpful to create a “test” with two articles (one factual from a legitimate source and one filled with propaganda from an unsubstantiated source). Then have them point out which is true and give reasons for why.
3. The Basics of Online Safety
It’s impossible to talk about media literacy without also discussing online safety. The two go hand in hand. For kids, parents will often be in charge of ensuring they can’t get into where they shouldn’t be. Usually by installing various security tools and updates and setting up parental blocks.
Of course, this means parents need to be informed on the latest cybersecurity issues, so they know what to do. For example, how to avoid scams and why VPNs have become essential. This software encrypts a person’s internet connection so that hackers/peeping toms can’t get in. For example, you can even use a VPN for Firestick to secure your streaming devices and have more privacy.
It’s still key that children are taught about the various dangers of being online – within reason, of course. It also helps to teach them how to avoid these dangers to understand the implications and take ownership of their actions. Like thinking about the situation before they click on a link or download anything.
Encouraging communication about the various things they’ll come across on TV and online can help prepare kids to succeed in this digitally driven world. It can help them process the flood of information they’ll come across as time goes on and make the right judgment based on what they see.