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Hooked on Digital Phonics: Media Literacy in the 21st Century

JUL 05, 2022

Hooked on Digital Phonics: Media Literacy in the 21st Century

Most of us have learned the basics of literacy in grade school, but people consume information on a whole different level today. TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram algorithms provide increasingly more extreme content to users in an effort to keep them engaged. Without preparation, this can be deadly.

So how does literacy apply to all forms of media?

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to critically assess and consume information, digital and otherwise. It also includes the ability to take those multimedia messages and reflect, respond, and react to them in a responsible way.

We often speak of “media” like it’s an entity (e.g. “the media is pushing an agenda”) but that word is actually the plural form of “medium.” So “media” signifies the full spectrum of content mediums: publication, broadcast, digital, and so on. 

Put simply, it’s more than just black and white text on the page—it’s an ability to grasp the full context of multimedia communications, whether those come from mass media outlets or people you interact with on a daily basis.

media literacy with all info

Why is media literacy an essential skill for kids?

For better and worse, we live in a world swimming in content, and kids see it all. Domo’s 9th annual “Data Never Sleeps” report details the mind-bending amount of data produced every minute and here are a few highlights:

  • 167 million videos are being watched by TikTok users every minute 
  • 2 million Snapchats are sent every minute
  • The total amount of video being streamed on YouTube each minute amounts to 694,000 hours

It’s hard to even wrap your head around those numbers. And children make up a big portion of the audience.

Common Sense Media found that, on average, “Eight to 12-year-olds use about five and a half hours of screen media per day, while 13 to 18-year-olds use about eight and a half hours of screen media.”

While that might sound alarming, it’s important to remember that quantity and quality are two different things.

Take YouTube as an example. You can use that medium to watch educational content, entertaining pet compilations, or inappropriate content like pornography or terror group propaganda.

That’s exactly why media literacy is so important. In a world inundated with media, the ability to responsibly evaluate the messages presented in that media is an essential life skill.

3 tips for teaching kids media literacy skills

As the world advances digitally, kids are usually the first to arrive on new websites and apps. This leaves room for predators, grooming, and overall lack of preparation. It’s our job as parents to educate and prepare our kids, which means we must educate and prepare ourselves first.

1: Tech in steps

At Gabb, we’re big advocates of “tech in steps” because giving a child full access to the internet, social media, or addictive games can be problematic if they’re not ready to handle that kind of digital freedom. Our devices—Gabb Watch, Gabb Phone, Gabb Phone Plus—were designed to gradually introduce kids to the digital world so you could pick the right amount of tech for your child.

Being intentional about the amount of media exposure your child is getting makes it much easier to be intentional about the media literacy conversations you have with them. Tough topics like pornography or fake news are even tougher if you’re forced to have them prematurely.

2: The right questions

Create an environment that makes it easy for your child to talk to you about the things they’re seeing, reading, and hearing. Asking open-ended questions that enable children to talk about how they feel will go a long way.

It’s also important to teach kids to ask the right questions about the media they’re consuming. A simple starting point is to encourage them to start with the question, “express, entertain, or educate?” Expressive content (i.e. works of art) are meant to accurately express, or portray, a situation. Entertainment is all about escape and pleasure. Educational content presents an argument with the aim of changing your point of view on something. Considering an author’s motive makes it much easier to analyze the piece of content. 

3: A good team

A good media literacy education is an ongoing pursuit, and one that definitely falls under the “it takes a village” category. Education policy on media literacy varies state by state so consider looking into what’s being taught in your child’s classroom. It’s also a good idea to talk with friends and family about your media concerns because your children are likely to spend time in other households.

Take it one step at a time. Be kind to yourself as you become more educated and figure out the best steps to take for you and your kiddos.

How do you improve your media literacy? And more importantly, how do you teach it to your kids? Let us know what has worked for you in the comments!


  • Hot Takes: What Are They? (Hot Take Meaning) on Apr 16, 2024 09:45 AM

    […] Encourage your children to speak kindly to others and be patient with other opinions, even if they disagree. Kids should also know how to seek out and trust reliable information by becoming more media literate.  […]

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