Tips to help kids engage with their screen content

Our children’s young eyes are taking in all kinds of media and messaging with little skill on how to make sense of what they are seeing.

A major survey of youth age 8 to 18 found that of the total amount of time youth spend on screens the majority is spent watching stuff (movies, TV, Netflix, YouTube videos ). That makes up 40% of their time on screens. Meanwhile, another 30% of kids' screen time is spent playing video games and scrolling through the internet. That is a lot of imagery, messaging and subject matter being passively delivered to and consumed by our children. (The last big chunk, 30% is spent on communication, i.e., social media and such).

Growing up in the 70s and 80s there was a lot of discussion about media literacy classes, but surprisingly I never came across one until I was attending Stanford Medical School. While there, I ventured beyond medicine to take a fantastic media literacy class at Stanford University where I learned to decode media messages. For example, the teacher showed us magazine clips of women in ads who were lounging on couches and being idle while men in the ads were doing things like sailing boats or other active pursuits. We were asked to think critically and ask questions such as “How might people interpret the message?” or  "How can this message help or harm a group of people?”

I suggest starting a conversation with your kids about media literacy at the dinner table. The National Association of Media Literacy’s downloadable free guide for parents is a great resource. Talk to them about questioning what they see when they view ads and social media posts, watch YouTube videos, play games and more.  For Tech Talk Tuesday, here are some specific questions to ask your children and yourselves about their favorite content:

  • Do you know who made it?
  • Do you feel like they left anything out of the storyline?
  • How might different people interpret the various messages?
  • Who might benefit from the message?
  • To whom might the message be harmful?