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Media literacy for preschoolers requires active parent viewing

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Sometimes, I’ll phrase my commentary as questions: “Do you think that’s a good idea?” or “What do you think of that?”

What’s great is that the older he gets, the more often he’ll turn to me and offer the kinds of commentary that I model for him. For example, we recently watched "Beauty and the Beasttogether for the first time; he’d been asking about it for a while. ”The Beast shouldn’t yell like that,” he told me. “It’s naughty.” Then, later, when Belle appeared in her gold dress for the ballroom scene: “Hey, where did her blue dress go that I like??” (blue is his favorite color.) Whatever his comments are, I like to hear them – and I make sure to give him an answer so he knows I’m listening.

Even though my son is only four, I’ve had some conversations with him about topics or behaviors that are shown across more than one program and movie. Such conversations need to take place while the television is off, so I’ve found it important to pay attention to his interests and his reactions while we’re viewing things together, to gauge what he might like to talk about later.

For example, my son has been interested in the concept of “thieves” since he was about two-and-a-half years old. One day, our family were enjoying a picnic on a park bench in Salem, Mass., when a sneaky seagull stole his sandwich! It just crept up behind us and grabbed it through the slats in the bench. To say we were caught off guard is an understatement.

Our little guy was really upset about losing his sandwich this way, so we encouraged him to shoo the nearby seagulls away by shouting, “Go away, thieves!” He seemed a bit empowered by his ability to fight back.

Now, anytime we are at the beach or another location where seagulls approach, he is vigilant about shooing them away, saying, “You can’t have our food, thieves!” He’s even noticed seagulls creeping up on other families and seems to have made it his personal mission to try to scare encroaching seagulls away. He doesn’t like thieves.

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