“You’re Smarter Than That!” (Family Media Literacy Part Three of Three)

First of all, thank you for your patience! It’s taking me longer to get to Part 3 of Family Media Literacy with summer events, visitors, and my reluctance to put an end to this series.

I understand there is no end to family media literacy…it’s an on-going process. For 18 Years. (And probably beyond with the grandkids.) And while I know three blogs (Part 1 and Part 2) are tiny drops in the tech tsunami disrupting every aspect of your family’s life, I finally made peace with my internal rumblings and feelings of inadequacy.

These ideas have helped other parents. I hope they help you in some way as well.

So here we go with Part 3 of Family Media Literacy…(Which makes part 2: Engage Mind so much easier.)

“You’re smarter than anything you see on TV,” I liked to tell my sons. From the time they were little until they left for college, I wanted them to get the message that they are highly capable wondrous beings in charge of their own minds. They can interpret well anything they see and hear in mass media, because, they are smarter than that!

“I know you can think of a better ending…” of a cartoon, a TV program, a movie or a video game. We played the “alternative ending game” until the end of high school. As they matured, so did their sophistication of understanding narrative, plot, and the director’s influence on an outcome of a film. “It’s fun to think and you can certainly think.”

As preschoolers they could conjure a cleverer jingle to the commercials they sang to each other over morning cereal bowls. As they got older, you might hear me cajoling, “You’re as creative as Stephen Spielberg—or even more so. Did you know that?” “Notorious Big has nothing on you guys. You could devise clever raps, if you wanted.” “Sure John Williams is a genius—he uses his talents, just like you do.”

I justified all this mommy hyperbole as a way to put me on an even playing field with the big guns. After all, I was up against a giant industry-culture that peddled its goods 24/7 with sophisticated brainwashing techniques to keep my boys beholden to them—an industry-culture who didn’t know them, didn’t care about them as the precious individuals I knew them to be—it only cared to lure them into the world of the Internet, video games, or the latest tech tool, ensuring they become robotic consumer adults, preoccupied with the trivial, not interested in anything beyond themselves.

Well guess what? I wanted my sons to become creative, self-actualized, emotionally healthy, stable adults, capable of contributing to a positive future. And I knew that could only happen if my husband and I were constantly vigilant, continually a nag for expanding their life beyond the world of the screen. They wouldn’t grow into their optimal selves with anything less.

I was at war and I knew that each and every day. Now with my sons being those self-actualized kind, amazing adults I dreamed of, I giddily realize that I won the war. Sure, I lost a few battles along the way—they played violent video games at friends’ houses, for instance. But in retrospect even some of those battles I won over time. They finally admitted how boring they thought violent video games were and preferred sports or strategy games, instead. YES!

“What do you want more than anything else in the world?” When I ask parents that question, they usually first respond—“For my kids to be happy…To lead a good life, to find fulfillment.” Something along those lines. They don’t answer:

“I want my child to become a video game addict.” Or “I want my child to grow up depressed and suicidal.” Or “I want my child to be the world’s greatest bully.”

No. Parents want what’s best for their children. Period.

Yet, the link between screen overuse and child self-identity may not be directly evident, but it is there, nonetheless, as clear as summer sky. It’s so worth all the time, energy; all the boundary setting with screens and talks afterward when boundaries are crossed. It’s so worth attending to how our children think about themselves as smart, creative people in relation to their relationship with screen technologies. For when we do, we give them the great gift of discernment for media matters. And that serves them well as children, as teens, and for the rest of their lives. Case in point:

Kyrie Irving, NBA star believes the world is flat. You may have heard. What may be news to you is that middle-school science teachers are pulling their hair out trying to convince their students that Mr. Irving is dead wrong—and they are losing this battle.

One teacher “says he tried reasoning with the students and showed them a video. Nothing worked. ‘They think that I’m part of this larger conspiracy of being a round-earther. That’s definitely hard for me because it feels like science isn’t real to them.”’

These students don’t think they are smarter than Kyrie Irving—they don’t even think their science teachers are smarter than Kyrie Irving. And it sure seems like they don’t believe anyone is smarter than to Kyrie Irving when it comes to our planet’s shape.

Want to make sure your kids don’t fall for such nonsense found all too regularly in our media-saturated world?

Make family media literacy an every day priority and “Your smarter than that!” your mandated mantra. Believe me, you’ll win this war that way. I guarantee it!

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.


Media Education for the Family: Engage Mind and Use What’s Around You (Part Two of Three)

Media Education has taken hold in the US as a distinct and scholarly discipline. The Media Ecology Association just held it’s annual conference—this year’s theme, “Technology, Spirituality, Ecology.” Interesting, huh?

And as I write this, the National Association for Media Literacy Education’s conference is underway in Chicago. With the theme “Engaging Citizens, Building Community” the mission of the conference as explained on its website, “… is to explore the relationships between media literacy education, civic participation and community-building within our contemporary culture. Scholars, educators, media professionals, students, and activists interested in furthering media literacy education are encouraged to attend.”

What? Aren’t parents encouraged to attend, as well?

My first book, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1995 was Screen Smarts: A Guide to Family Media Literacy—now out of print. However, I compiled and updated 100 family media education activities from the book that many parents have found useful. The activities are listed by stages of development (birth through age 2, ages, 3-5, 6-10, 11-14, and 15-18) so that your child can participate in appropriate ways according to his/her brain capacities.

Media education came alive for me in 1991 at a conference at the University of Toronto. One workshop, in particular, made an impression.

The professor showed a 30 second Pepsi commercial, featuring a young Cindy Crawford walking into a bar, men gathering around her while she surprised them by ordering a Pepsi. We then told the professor what we saw—nothing earth-shaking—a pretty girl walks in a bar and orders a Pepsi.

Next came the thought-provoking part. He played the commercial again, this time stopping after each and every frame. “Do you see that light behind Cindy? Why do you think she is bathed in light while there is less lighting on the men?” (Makes her the focus.)

“And what’s with this guy? Why is he not part of the group? What’s he doing way over there at the end of the bar? What’s he looking at?” (Weirdly leering directly at her breasts.)

“Why is Cindy dressed in a halter top? Is it really summer? Look outside.” (It looks more like a fall day.)

And on it went. Until it became clear. Pepsi was selling its product by glorifying misogyny and appealing to men’s sexual fantasies.

By engaging strong emotions and intentionally bypassing logical thinking, Pepsi made its product seem “cool,” desirable—just like Cindy Crawford.

The other thing that stayed with me about this media education workshop was that in referring to the images, the professor called them “text.” Say again? No words appeared on the small TV monitor we watched—only visuals. “The text in this frame…” “Consider the text here…”

As a former high school English teacher, I could relate. Deciphering a 30-minute commercial was much the same as explicating a poem by Robert Frost or learning the implications of a Shakespearean metaphor. Engage mind and everything changes.

Now, there is no way I am suggesting busy parents today break down commercials into one-second bites to discuss with their kids (Although with today’s tech anyone can easily do this—perhaps older teens can make a project out of it?). What I do want to emphasize is the Engage Mind part.

In fact, this second practice (Practice #1: found here) for successful family media education is:

Family Media Education Practice # 2: Engage Mind and Use What’s Around You.

For instance, all around us are unrealistic portrayals of women’s bodies in movies, video games, magazines, and yes, today’s commercials, too. For instance, the average video game female is 5 feet 4 inches tall, has a 29-inch bust, a 22-inch waist, and 31-inch hips. As researcher Eric Rasmussen points out, “These highly unrealistic portrayals are so culturally-pervasive that young women (and adult women for that matter) are motivated to try to obtain these proportions, despite how unrealistic and unattainable they may be.”

Why? Engage mind and perhaps the purpose, intention, and reason shift to know and accept what is actually normal. A mass media culture has a way of making the normal seem abnormal and the abnormal seen quite normal. By helping our kids think through reality presented via media, they establish a normalcy north star within their growing psyches.

A Few Tips

Ask questions—a lot of questions.

Whenever we ask children questions, we engage their minds. The brain has nowhere else to go but to consider an answer or several possible responses.

For added bonus, make those questions about things you yourself are a curious about and you will see rapid child engagement. There’s nothing like a parent beginning with, “I wonder…” for helping children learn the art of thoughtful conversation.

Use Compare and Contrast as Your Go-To Technique

If you are thinking Compare and Contrast…I guarantee you will come up with many productive media education activities on the fly, you will amaze yourself.

I have Compare and Contrast so ingrained in my head from raising my two sons, that it won’t turn off even though we are now empty nesters. For instance, last night I watched MSNBC followed by Fox News to compare and contrast choice of newsworthy items, along with clarity of logical thinking. I learned a lot.

You can do the above with a teen today. Fake news, alternative facts, and how do we know what is real when NBA stars think the world is flat provide a treasure trove of similar media education potential.

Here are a few more ideas with the Compare and Contrast backdrop.

Compare Old with New

Let watch this classic Bugs Bunny cartoon and watch while it takes 60 seconds—a long 60 seconds for Bugs to tall from the sky. How does this compare with __________(favorite cartoon)? The fast pace of your favorite video game?

Let’s watch the 70;s version of Beauty and the Beast now that we saw the new one. I wonder what changes we will notice?

Over the summer, let’s watch a popular film from each decade starting with the 1920s and have dessert afterwards and talk about each one—then when we get to this decade, let’s consider how film has changed over all those years. What was your favorite decade? Why?

Do above for TV programs starting with 1950’s. Or video games starting with 1970’s.

Compare Different Media

After we play chess on this new board I bought, let’s play on our apps and see how that works. Which de we like better? Why?

After one hour playing Minecraft, spend one hour playing with the 3-D figures and setting up your imaginary world in the rec room. How is this same/different form playing on the computer? Which do you like better? Why?

Let’s read the book, listen to the audible of the book and then watch the movie of the book. This is an experiment in how we take in the story in different ways depending on when we read, listen or watch. We could talk about what we learned form this experiment all summer.

You may be gaining your media education/digital citizenship ideas from wonderful resources like Common Sense Media or Canada’s Media Smarts. Wherever you choose to look for family media education activities, know that when you use what’s around you to engage your child’s mind, you are raising thoughtful, discerning digital citizens—fully prepared to live fully in today’s world and take on the one to come.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.

(Part Three with Practice #3 coming in July.)