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Student View: Why Media Literacy Matters for Parents

By Sarah McKenna

Sarah McKenna is a first-year BA Joint Honours student at Dublin City University where she studied media literacy in the School of Communications. 

This explainer aims to outline the importance of media literacy in today’s society and specifically for parents. Media literacy is an extremely broad topic as media play a critical role in shaping perspectives in different ways. Media effects can be cognitive, emotional and behavioural. I believe that these media effects may play a detrimental role in the shaping of children’s minds while their brains are still developing.  

Parents need to understand media literacy as they have the greatest influence over their children. By actively increasing their media literacy skills, parents can be responsible and become aware of creating a safe environment for media consumption which would ultimately encourage positive relationships with media and technology overall. Guiding your children through social media allows you to educate your child on how to be responsible online, develop a positive relationship with media and critically evaluate content. 

In an age dominated by media and social media, media literacy is “key to empowering people with skills and knowledge to understand how media operates in a constantly changing environment, to question the accuracy of information, to counter unfair and inaccurate representations and to challenge extremist views, to ultimately make informed media decisions” (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland 2021). 

Understanding the power of media regarding children is necessary for parents as children’s cognitive abilities are still developing, which makes them vulnerable. Their young minds are moulded by the media they consume. According to James Potter, this is a cognitive effect, a type of media effect that is manifest in the acquisition of information (factual or social) or the triggering, alteration, or reinforcement of certain thoughts. In other words, the media affect what we know or think we know. This may be the most prevalent of all the media effects. 

After all, we are constantly acquiring information through everyday exposure to the media. Consider what social models and ideas children might learn due to the amount of time they spend consuming content.

Media also have the potential to impact children’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour. For some children, behavioural effects can easily develop into habits. For example, consuming media might displace other activities such as exercising or hanging out with friends in real life rather than connecting through social media.

Now that you have gained an understanding of how media effects might influence your children, it is important to consider how you could use your media literacy knowledge to help them navigate the world of social media. You could help children critically evaluate media messages to foster critical thinking skills. For example, help your child to consider the perspectives of influencers and commercial content creators, examine power dynamics, identify whose interests are being served, and assess what values are being normalised or challenged. You could also differentiate between opinion and fact to encourage critical thinking skills. In doing this, as a parental figure for your child, it could potentially promote an enlightened approach to media content.

Understanding the cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects of media allows you, as a parent, to make informed decisions about the media your child consumes on a regular basis. As discussed above, having critical thinking skills gives parent’s the ability to communicate openly with their children which ultimately creates a space to share concerns and allows parents to help their child navigate media platforms, particularly social media. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that media literacy matters to all of us in this modern age, parents or not. 

This opinion piece is part of a blog series from DCU students.