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How Do We Foster Media Literacy In Today's Digital World?

Social media apps on an iPhone.
Kārlis Dambrāns
Social media apps on an iPhone.

With the advent of smart phones and tablets, media messages are now ever-present. And with social media, Internet television, satellite radio, blogs and self-publishing in addition to traditional print and broadcasting, the number of media messages out there is also ever-increasing.

That makes it all the more important that people have the ability to critically deconstruct the messages the media convey.

"People are buying things, they don't know why, they're voting for people, they don't know why, and what we're doing is giving them the skills so that they can develop a distance from what they are watching and understand what they are watching," said Art Silverblatt, professor of media communications at Webster University and vice-president of Gateway Media Literacy Partners.

During GMLP's seventh annual Media Literacy Week, the organization is emphasizing the need for media literacy for all ages, from young children to seniors.

"Children these days live in a media-saturated environment," said pediatrician Ken Haller. He is a professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University and a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center. "We used to get upset when kids were watching TV for five or six hours a day, but now eight-year-olds watch an average of eight to 10 hours a day, and kids who are a little bit older than that often use media [more than] 11 hours a day. ... And this is something that we have to be concerned about."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released updated recommendations for children's media consumption based on today's media environment. It recommends creating a media use plan, keeping screens out of bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to 1 or 2 hours a day.

One of the things that can be very helpful with kids is to sit down, watch shows that kids are watching, see what kind of images they are taking in, what kind of messages they're getting, and really ask them about it," said Haller. "Hopefully parents will have done their job before that to instill a certain level of ethics and morality consistently in their children. And media can be used very positively to reinforce that, either by seeing shows that reinforce those images or messages, or if there is something that is very different from that message, having the kids see where that contradiction is, or where that stereotyping is. "

Stereotypes in the media is one of Marvin Beckerman's top concerns. He is head of the Older Adult Community Action Program in St. Louis, an advocacy program sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women - St. Louis Section.

"A lot of times seniors, especially now, are being blamed for cutbacks in certain kinds of federal programs, because of what is perceived as senior pressure for maintaining and increasing funding for certain senior programs," said Beckerman.

Seniors should also gain media literacy said Beckerman, adding that while the stereotype is that seniors are set in their ways and rigid about their beliefs, seniors can change their minds when presented with multiple perspectives.

Related Event

Gateway Media Literacy Partners' seventh annual Media Literacy Week "Media Literacy Across the Ages”
November 10-17, 2013
Various Times
Various Locations 
For more information, visit the Gateway Media Literacy Partners website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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