A couple of weeks ago, I went to a retreat- a much needed time of learning and refreshment. The topic couldn’t have been more valuable for me: being a woman who stands on Biblical truth by learning to analyze media messages. This wasn’t really about fake news; this was about the constant influx of voices that tell us what we should buy, who we should be, and what we should believe. The quiet of the weekend gave me plenty of time to think about this topic, but it has been constantly on my mind since. Thinking about our children navigating this technologically obsessed world is somewhat terrifying. Not only do we need to be diligent about what we take in, we have to help our children analyze media messages as well.
According to the Media Literacy Project (the site is no longer updated)-
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media.”
Even if I try to manage the screen time my children have or music that they listen to, the truth is they are constantly being bombarded with advertising and cultural messages. A brand name on the front of a tee-shirt; the smiling faces on the front of a magazine on the coffee table; a logo on a box of snacks- these are advertisements and messages that a child inevitably sees. And those things are all INSIDE the house. Imagine what they see when they step foot outside or cruise along in the backseat of our cars?
This is extremely overwhelming. Eek…just thinking about it.
We need to teach our children, even during the preschool years, how to discern these messages. What is real? What is fake? Is this trying to get me to buy something?
I understand that this is something that Charlotte Mason couldn’t have possibly addressed. But teaching children to think- THAT was something she strongly believed in.
A child who has never had to think won’t think, and probably never will. Aren’t there enough people already going through the world without any deliberate attempt at thinking or using their wits? Children must be made to think every day of their lives. They should get at the ‘why’ of things for themselves.” Home Education, pages 153-154.
We will address this issue early, because I view it a little like habit training. My children are receiving cultural messages whether I like it or not. I can either let it go, or teach them how to filter the good from the bad.
Analyzing Media Messages- 3 R’s
The media expert who spoke at the retreat, Sue Summers, explained these “three R’s” of media literacy: review, reflect, and respond. We should teach our children to do these things after watching a TV show or spending time online, so they can critically think about the messages they receive rather than absorb them like a sponge. This helps them reject materialism, sexualization, and competition. If we simultaneously teach them Truth- that they are so valuable because they are children of God- they will have a foundation to stand on that wasn’t Photoshopped in.
Review– Encourage children to think about what they’ve just viewed. Ask questions like, “What did you see?” and “Could that actually happen?” This step is similar to talking to a friend about a movie after watching it together.
Reflect– This step is where the critical thinking occurs. Many preschoolers don’t have the cognitive abilities for critical thinking yet, and that’s okay. Simple questions like, “What did you think?” can lead them towards eventual critical thinking about what they see. When children are older, questions to ask might be: “Who was this intended to reach?” “Is this a reliable source?”
Respond– Our response is probably the most important aspect of this. We can just go along with the flow (which is definitely not a Biblical idea!), or we can turn off the TV when we don’t like the messages. After you’ve critically worked through the messages you’ve received, decide what to do with them. For some people, it means taking breaks from social media, or cancelling accounts all together. Some people choose to not buy certain products. We can help our children learn to respond in healthy ways through modeling these skills, and guiding them through.
I left the retreat with some amazing resources for children from Sue Summers:
Media Alert: This book has discussion starters and activities for children from preschool to high school. The questions are adapted for the different age levels, and revolve around the “Three R’s.”
Eye Spy Program: This is a coloring book for young children that teaches them to analyze media messages. The pictures are bare bones, which allows the child to draw themselves into the scene to think about what is true versus what is fabricated. My favorite page asks children to draw themselves as a super hero, and prompts them to think about what a real hero looks like as compared to a super hero on TV. The book contains printable pages, so you can use it with Sunday school classes, co-ops, etc.
There are also a few videos that are really interesting to watch that show the unrealistic beauty standards media holds women to. I would not show them to my children (although there is nothing blatantly inappropriate in them.)
Dove Evolution– This is unbelievable. It begins with a woman without makeup. and shows the great pains taken to make her billboard perfect- including the few clicks of a mouse that alter her physical features for perfection. These are not attainable standards!
Dove Real Beauty Sketches– A forensic artist is brought in to sketch women’s descriptions of themselves. Then, another woman describes the original subject, and the two sketches are compared. I bet you can guess which sketch was the most accurate.
Putting It All Together
First and foremost, before I teach my children these things, I need to be sure that I’m doing these things as well. Am I thinking about the magazines that I read, the social media that I peruse, or the movies that I watch? Or am I just passively letting the messages seep in, like a green toxic gas creeping underneath a door? I think it’s safe to assert that for women, some of the most potent media messages we take in are about beauty. Television, social media, even the news tell us what we should look like. I let media dictate my self-image for a very long time. Now that I’m older, the messages of beauty affect me in a different way: is my home beautiful enough? Are my clothes in style? We constantly compare ourselves to the Instagram snapshot of someone else’s life.
I recently read Uninvited by Lisa TerKeurst (I’m deliberately avoiding affiliate links in this post.) She did a study with the Barna Group to see the affects of social media on women:
- 14 percent of the women surveyed felt encouraged after viewing social media.
- Almost half of these women felt lonely on occasion (or more often!) after viewing social media
- 6 out of 10 women felt like the needed to make changes in their lives after spending time on social media
These are not good messages we’re receiving, are they? Analyzing media messages is important for us as well as our little ones. Let’s think about what we’re seeing, think about it critically, and decide not to let negative messages infiltrate our lives.