What Your Teen Should Know About Media Literacy

Teens today have access to more information and news than any other time in human history. Educators argue that media literacy should be taught more extensively in school and at home so students have the skills to understand how information is shaped and distorted online. 

While parents obviously want their children to be savvy media users, many are unsure exactly what the term media literacy means and what their teen needs to know. 

What is Media Literacy? 

The main purpose of media literacy is to teach teens how to be critical and discerning about all forms of media. 

A study of teens in the US confirmed that the majority accessed information about current events through social media. 60% of those who viewed news on YouTube got it from influencers and celebrities. Trends are similar in Australia.

These online sources tend to present a more biased view than traditional news outlets. If students don’t develop the skills to critically analyse and evaluate their news sources they are more easily manipulated and may build their opinions on false or partial information. 

What Do Teens Need to Know?

The Clickbait Cycle 

For teens to recognise how news content is shaped and distorted, they need to understand how the media works. The emergence of the 24-hour news cycle and ‘clickbait’ is an important part of this discussion. 

The pressure to produce a constant stream of content and compete with other online news outlets has led to a sharp drop in fact-checking and journalistic standards. 

To determine whether a news story is credible and unbiased, teens need to be able to identify whether authoritative sources were used, and if multiple viewpoints are represented.

They should be encouraged to corroborate information by looking at different sources instead of accepting a single perspective. 

Fact vs Opinion 

Parents can help students identify the difference between fact and opinion by asking them if statements can be proven true or false. If the answer is no, the statement is based on opinion. 

Once teens have learned to identify an opinion, they can then begin to think more critically about techniques of persuasion and why someone may be attempting to influence them.

As so much marketing is directed at children, talking about advertising is a great way to help kids develop critical thinking skills. This can be achieved simply by asking what appeals advertisers are using in different advertisements. Teens can later apply these skills to news content.

According to the Centre for Media Literacy, some of the critical questions which need to be asked when analysing news stories are: who created the message, what is the purpose and what techniques were used to get attention? Teens also need to consider what was left out as this is a reliable sign of an underlying agenda.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Stay involved. As their kids get older many parents tend to take a step back. It’s important to stay involved in your child’s online life and be aware of the messages and opinions they’re being exposed to.
  • Model media literacy. The best way to raise a media-savvy child is to model this behaviour yourself by checking sources, recognising bias and identifying misleading claims. Teach your child how to do their own fact-checking and corroboration. 
  • Communication. Help your teen become a discerning media consumer by regularly discussing current events, and how the media functions, including the use of algorithms to determine what appears in social media feeds.

Strong media literacy skills are essential for teens today.