Media Literacy: Why It’s Important for Your Child to be Media Savvy

By Amanda Grossman-Scott

This is the first in a series of articles about media literacy and how to teach your children to look and think critically about the media they view.

For most of the time my children have been growing up, we haven’t had cable in our home. I’d like to say I was taking some moral high ground but mostly it was just too expensive. This has meant that we have been spared commercials. Recently we got an antenna so we can watch local news. Most of the commercials on the local channels are car commercials. My 10 year old who is starting to notice cars (mostly that we don’t have a cool one) ran into the kitchen shortly after we got the antenna and proclaimed: “MOM! Did you know we can just trade in our car and get a NEW one?!” He was flabbergasted at this new found information and insisted that we head to the dealership immediately. I explained to him how trade-ins work and that no one but us wanted our beloved minivan. It occurred to me that this might be the first of many explanations I’d be giving now that my kids would be seeing commercials more frequently. Time to make my kids more media literate!

What IS Media Literacy?

The term “Media Literacy” means the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms. (Media Literacy Now, n.d.) Those car commercials are, unfortunately, the easiest thing for me to explain to my children. What’s difficult is explaining why advertising can be purposely misleading. Telling my kids that people lie to make money is taking a little bit of their innocence. On the other hand, I don’t want my kids to be naïve forever and I do want to encourage them to be critical thinkers

Why Media Literacy Is Important

According to a 2010 study, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media in a typical day – more than 53 hours a week. (Rideout, M.A. 2010) With all of this time spent taking in what the media offers, isn’t it important that our kids understand what they’re seeing?

“…children are exposed to sexualization, violence, bullying, marketing of unhealthy foods, alcohol and tobacco, and unhealthy body images and gender stereotyping. Media consumption influences children’s behavior and can contribute to aggression, violence and bullying, depression, body image issues, obesity, substance abuse, and other negative effects on physical and mental health.” (Media Literacy Now) The only way to counteract all of these negative effects is to teach our children to look at what they are watching with a critical eye.

Seeing Is Not Believing

The first step in teaching media literacy to your child is explaining the difference between fantasy and reality. This may seem like a basic concept but “many younger children cannot discriminate between what they see and what is real.” (Bar-on, MD 2001) Children are inherently innocent and believe what they are told. Therefore, it’s going to take time to get them to see things critically. Start off simply. When you see a commercial or a billboard featuring a man or woman, point out that the person in the advertisement is an actor and that he or she has been paid to participate in that ad. Begin pointing out flaws in advertising such as products or places you have tried and been disappointed in: Or foods that are being advertised as delicious or healthy when you know they are not. This will get your child thinking and questioning the messages around them, which is a great way to start raising a critical thinking, media-literate kid!

Curious to learn more? Check out our books, 30 Days of Sex Talks; How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, which is also available in Spanish; and 30 Days to a Stronger Child.

Next article: Images In Advertising: The Unattainable Standard

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MD, M. B., MD, D. B., MD, S. B., MD, S. C., MD, A. G., Gonzales de Rivas, MD, M. R., et al. Children, Adolescents and Television. PEDIATRICS, 107, 423-426. Retrieved June 5, 2014, from

Media Literacy Now. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 5, 2014, from

M.A., V. R., Ph.D., U. F., & Ph.D., D. R. (2010, January 20). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Retrieved June 5, 2014, from