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Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

Teaching children to think critically about media

An effective way of countering media influence is to teach children how to critically analyze what messages are being sent, said Tessa Jolls, president of the Center for Media Literacy in Malibu, Calif.

The center poses five “key questions of media literacy”:

1) Who created this message?
2) What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
3) How might people understand this message differently from me?
4) What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
5) Why is this message being sent?

The center’s Web site breaks these questions down into simpler language that can help even very young children understand the persuasive intent of advertising. “Just teaching kids the difference between someone telling you something and someone selling you something is a big idea,” said Jolls, who has a 20-year-old daughter in college and a 17-year-old son still at home.

Catholic schools have taken the lead in collaborating with the center to bring media literacy education to students. “In public schools there’s a resistance to talking about values,” said Jolls, a parishioner at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church. But Catholic schools have a unique niche that allows them “to teach about values that the church considers helpful in sorting through media and thinking critically about it,” she said.

As a parent, Jolls has used media ratings -- however imperfect -- to limit such things as movies and video games in her family’s household. But parents should not lay down rules with no explanation: Jolls encourages parents to share their rationale for the media choices they make. Children “will internalize values and they themselves will self-select what they think is good for them,” she said. But there will be “a much greater chance of your child sharing your point of view if you share your point of view with your child. How can they know unless you have the conversation?”

-- Teresa Malcolm

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

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