Building Media Literacy with Your Children

Author: one tough job

According to a Pew Research report, around 50% of parents with children under five years old report that their children interact with or use tablet computers and smartphones. Most parents also report that technology has made parenting harder. As kids are exposed to digital media regularly, from advertisements to television shows, it is important for them to think about who creates the media they are watching, how to tell the difference between what is real and what is make-believe, and how to navigate devices and platforms.

Learn some ways to introduce media literacy skills to children of different ages and help your kids navigate safely through the digital world.


Toddlers love to learn. Encourage learning about media as your children begin to form their own sentences with these activities and guidelines:

  • View media with your toddlers and comment on what you see. Your littlest kids may not be able to answer your questions, but you can comment on how the characters are silly or how what they are doing in a scene of a television show has similarities to your own life. You can also narrate who created a story as you listen or read with them. These activities will help them understand the difference between what is real and realistic and what is not.
  • Guide their introduction to devices. Help your toddlers learn what happens when you swipe, tap, or type something as they play with your tablet, smartphone, or computer.


According to WebMD, 3- to 4-year-old kids can begin to recall and identify common pictures and objects. Continue to engage with them about various media types as they recognize images and can have short conversations with these activities and guidelines:

  • View new media with your preschoolers. Monitoring your children’s media use and being there to engage in conversation about what they are viewing proves helpful at any age. Exposure to new types of media may increase as your children get older and come with new implications.
  • Ask questions and start conversations about media content and sources. Preschoolers can begin to answer simple questions that help them distinguish between advertisements and art. Whether images pop up on a screen or their cereal box, these children will recall common pictures. They will also have a greater ability to answer questions about all media, such as: Who do you think created this? Why do you watch/listen/see this?
  • Help them navigate new technology and devices. Preschoolers may be using technology more regularly both at home and in school. Teach them how to navigate devices and interact with certain technology appropriately. If they are interacting with other kids or family members online, monitor how they behave and incorporate conversation about appropriate etiquette.

Monitoring your children’s media use and being there to engage in conversation about what they are viewing proves helpful at any age.

Early School

At this age, your kids may begin attending to media without your continuous supervision. This stage of development at five or six may allow them to think about a story or who has created a show, movie, book, or advertisement. According to Common Sense Media, “media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending.”

Continue to help your kids build their media literacy as they are exposed to new media sources and have greater critical thinking skills with these guidelines:

  • View and attend to media with them when you can. Your early-school-age children may be going to a friend’s house for a playdate or beginning to communicate with friends online. When they are in your presence, don’t be afraid to continue to monitor and watch, listen, or play alongside them. They may be playing with video games for the first time or being exposed to new advertisements or news media, which means there are new opportunities to teach them how to respond. Being an active mediator remains vital.
  • Ask and encourage questions. Make them feel that they can ask you anything about communicating online or what they are viewing. Building trust will help you continue to monitor their level of literacy regardless of where they attend to media. Ask questions to help them understand the purpose of media, such as: Why do you like playing this video game? Why do you watch this television show or video?
  • Help them understand and navigate new sources. Interactive video games and social media are much different than television shows and books. Help them understand how to physically navigate different technology in addition to understanding the source and purpose.

Your children will be exposed to media whether it is news, advertisements, social media, or video games. The most important thing to remember is that asking questions, engaging in media with your child, and keeping the door open for them to ask questions moving forward will lead to learning and enhanced media literacy as they grow older. See One Tough Job’s advice on protecting your child’s idealism for more advice on managing communication with your child and helping them interpret the media they consume.

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