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Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Campaign for Media-Savvy Kids

By Jan Pease


Perhaps because my husband and I are of an age that, for our contemporaries, includes one or more grandchildren, I notice that we both enjoy watching parents interact with their children.  At the library, I especially enjoy watching little boys imitate their daddies as they walk out the door.  I also enjoy watching parents and children shop.  I was in a store last week and heard a child exclaim, “There it is!”  I looked around to see what interesting thing he was talking about, and it was a bright pink cleaning appliance!

Recently I observed a little boy, who should certainly be a salesman someday, trying to convince his dad that they should buy a certain brand of frozen pastries, because they are the best!  I looked up this brand, and one pastry has 170 calories, and 7 grams of fat.  Since one of these delicious treats isn’t very filling, it would be easy to consume 340 calories, with 14 grams of fat. Did I mention the 50 grams of carbohydrate, including 18 grams of sugar in two pastries? One of the other pop up pastries, not frozen, has a whopping 210 calories in a single serving. 

A packet of instant oatmeal also has about 170 calories, but only 1.5 grams of fat, plus the high fiber content is good for you and sticks to your ribs all day.  It also has a lot of sugar added, which is why I eat plain oatmeal.  But I digress.  What is the point of this? 

Why don’t children campaign for oatmeal?  How does a young child know that a brand of frozen pastries is better than the other pop up pastries?   How does a child know that a pink cleaning appliance is the one?   I’m not declaring war on toaster pastries or pink cleaning appliances.   I think I might be declaring war on TV commercials that target our children! 

How can we raise children who are media savvy in a world where we are all bombarded with commercial messages that promise better, brighter, cleaner, more delicious, gotta have it?   An important part of literacy is learning to think critically.  Applying critical thinking skills to media has led to a term that is new to me: media literacy.  I found an interesting essay about teaching children to think critically about advertisements on the Scholastic website for teachers, http://teacher.scholastic.com/ . Go to the website and search for Media Savvy Kids.  The article, by Meg Lundstrom, originally appeared in the November/December 2004 issue of Instructor magazine, but it is still very appropriate for 2011.

 I really like these five questions that could help open a great discussion about what advertisers are really trying to do.

5 Media-Savvy Questions That Kids Should Ask
1. Who created this message?
2. What creative techniques are used to get  attention?
3. How might different people interpret this message?
4. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are in this message?
    What was left out and why?
5. Why is this message being sent?
These are questions we all should ask, as we model making good choices every day. 

My next task is to find books on this subject, because when I searched the catalog for books to help children become media-savvy, I didn’t find any books in the Litchfield children’s collection.  You might try “Teach Your Kids to Think!: Simple Tools You Can Use Every Day”  by Maria Chesley Fisk, in the adult area at 155.413.  In the meantime, please talk with your children about what they see  on TV.  See you at the library!