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Media literacy for preschoolers requires active parent viewing

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Second, I find opportunities to talk with him about his favorite shows at other times – like when we’re driving in the car, or having dinner, or chatting before bedtime – when we can have broader conversations, e.g., comparing different movies he likes.

By viewing media together, parents can help their children become media literate. This means that whenever possible, I watch programs with my son, so that I’m present to see and hear his reactions.

But viewing together is not enough; active viewing is key. This means I talk with my son about what we are seeing. I talk back to the screen, share my ideas and concerns with my son, and respond to anything he says, too.

We wind up talking about characters’ behaviors a lot. Lots of kids’ programs focus on bad behaviors. Academic studies show that even prosocial children’s media, like the kind found on PBS that are meant to teach lessons about good behavior, spend way too much time modeling bad behavior. The result: little kids often don’t pick up on the resolution or good behavior that such programs mean to encourage. The exciting and interesting bad behaviors get all the attention.

Because I’m aware of this problem, when my son and I are watching movies or television programs together, I’m quick to point out on-screen behaviors that I don’t like – in a gentle way, of course. I might say, “Thomas should tell Sir Topham Hat the truth!” or “Gee, I don’t like the way the Witch is talking to Rapunzel right now – that’s cruel,” or “Uh-oh, Spike is being really greedy! That’s not nice.”

In the interest of positive reinforcement, I’ll point out good behaviors, too. “That was really kind of Kanta to let the girls take his umbrella,” or “It was so clever how Word Girl figured that out,” or “Rarity is so generous with her friends.”

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