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Monday, August 3, 2009

Parents and Media Literacy -- Fear or Facilitation?

The session on parents and media literacy took a somewhat frightening turn, as a number of people in the audience reacted with amazement (and perhaps even a little disdain) to findings that parents prefer to regulate media in their own households over government regulation. At least two audience members suggested we need to educate parents to demand government intervention; but where is the media literacy gain in telling families that they’re not capable and need Big Brother to do it for them?

This discussion followed on an excellent challenge by Faith Rogow about the disconnect between how we train teachers to provide media literacy education – an inquiry-based foundation – and how we most often deal with parents in media training settings, which tends to be to scare them with media effects findings, then tell them what to do.

One effect often posited about media’s influence on audiences is that it leads them to have a more negative or fearful view of the world. Based on reactions from some of the researchers, educators and pediatricians in this session, we may well be creating that fear in what we tell them about the mediated world, even more than what that world contains for many or even most kids. If you lead into media literacy with the dangers, it’s very hard then to change up and promote the positive potential.

OK, editorial finished. Below is a more dispassionate rundown of this session.

Kelly Mendoza of Temple University studied parents and their family Internet use strategies, particularly how they balance protectionism (defined primarily by the media effects research model) and empowerment (more attuned to the cultural studies and new media literacy models). She explored what strategies parents use along this continuum, using four variables: internet mediation strategies, confidence in using strategies, perceived usefulness of strategies, attitudes about children’s use of Internet.

Mendoza found that parents say they are reliant on rules about time and where kids can go (but recognizes that there is often a disconnect between what kids and parents report about what the rules are and how well they are enforced). Fewer parents report asking questions about what their kids are doing on line, and even fewer report encouraging their children to be creators online.

Parents reported little confidence in filtering and monitoring tools, a concern for the researchers given the size of the market in this software. At the same time they also claimed little confidence in their own ability to guide children to productive ways to be online creators.

Parents said they were very concerned about content, especially about inadvertent exposure to inappropriate content. Still, most parents deal with such incidents as they happen, rather than taking preventive measures.

Interviewed about their best hopes for the Internet, the parents focused on the “wealth of information” aspect, the Web as research resource. Few talked about its potential for communication or connection.

Catherine Chiarello, a lecturer on parenting digital kids, noted the gap between the typical advice given to parents and the realities of kids’ and families’ lives today. “Timers are great for cooking, but they stink for trying to regulate a kid who’s in the middle of a game. The advice not to have media in the bedroom is fine, but most kids today have laptops.”

So, Chiarello focuses on management strategies designed for the particular family – different strategies for a kid who is susceptible to bullying vs one who gets along with a wide variety of others; different needs of a latchkey family vs. one with a parent home most of the time. She also advocates understanding that this is a young person’s world, one that they are born into while we are reacting to it as a new and changing landscape.

Laurel Felt, Annenberg School for Communication, USC, conducted a pilot study on parents’ perspective on media and their children. Her hypothesis was that parents’ SES, their own childhood media experiences, and the age of their children would influence perceptions about children and media.

SES did impact parents’ preference for TV regulation – but regulation by parents, not government, broadcasters or independent organizations; low SES parents are most in favor of parental regulation.

Regarding children’s age and perceptions of TV quality, parents of now-adult children perceive TV quality as highest (perhaps a function of nostalgia?); parents of pre-school children also had reasonably high assessment of quality, while parents of elementary age children had the lowest view.

Finally, the more time the subjects had spent watching TV as a child, the higher opinion they had of current TV quality.

Emily Hunt, Parent and Teacher Media Education Manager at Common Sense Media, demonstrated the organization’s action-oriented materials program, built around positive and practical strategies and information on parents’ central concerns. Media offer Common Sense an opportunity to strengthen the home/school connection.

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