These Kids are Wired! Part 1: Helping Kids Develop their Media IQ

45 hours a week with media–that’s the average for youth ages 8 to 18. Compare that to 9 hours a week exercising. And, do the math, this is way more time than they spend in school or with family. Technology and media offer incredible opportunities for living in a global community. But there are challenges too! When was the last time you found yourself glancing over at your child. Her eyes are focused on the television, mesmerized by some gory or sexy or combo scene. You say to yourself, “what in the world is she watching? Should I really be letting her view this?” Or you and your son are walking, he with his ipod and you with yours. In an inspired moment you ask him to share his music and believe it or not, he actually hands you an ear bud. You listen to the lyrics and say out loud while rolling your eyes, “Really?!”
Many parents report that their number one health concern for their children is overuse of the media, according to Common Sense Media. And, it’s no wonder. Did you know…
• The average American child sees 40,000 television commercials each year.
• By the time the average child reaches middle school, they have viewed 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts.
• By age 17, teens have viewed a quarter of a million commercials aimed at appearance.
• The number one wish for girls (ages 11-17) is to be thinner.
• The number one wish for boys (ages 11–17) is to achieve a physical ideal only possible with steroid use.

What’s to Worry About?
One survey found that many parents do not believe media messages are problematic for their children. Sometimes parents believe–or hope–that their children are resilient, immune somehow to negative effects. Other parents I speak with express a great deal of worry. They wonder if their children are consuming too much media. They are alarmed by the violence and sexualization that kids are exposed to at earlier and earlier ages. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) identified these “side effects” of media messages: poor school performance, hitting or pushing kids often, aggressively talking back to adults, and frequent nightmares. According to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, media messages that sexualize girls have an impact–including contributing to eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression or depressed mood.

What’s a Parent to Do?
How can parents help children and teens develop awareness and analytic skillsthat will help protect them from the negative effects of media messages. Your role is a powerful one!

1. Get clear. Take some time to think about the messages you WANT your child or teen to be getting. For example, are you concerned about the sexualization of girls in the media? Do you want your sons and daughters to be developing positive images and values about themselves that are not appearance oriented? The APA Task Force suggests you can “teach girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look. You can teach boys to value girls as friends, sisters, and girlfriends, rather than as sexual objects.” Granted, your kids will still be exposed to unwanted media messages, but helping them develop awareness and analytic skills can make a difference.

2. Tune in and talk. Spend time co-viewing and co-listening. This gives you a chance to learn what your child is into and to help him/her interpret the messages. Need some conversation starters? Try these–and be genuinely curious! “What do you like about this song?” “Is this a favorite with your friends?” “What’s popular about it?” ” What do you think about the lyrics?” After listening well, share your observations. What do you like about the music? What is your opinion about the lyrics? If you are concerned about the message, share why. And, keep it short if your child’s eyes start to glaze over or roll. Remember, they are use to commercials–30 to 60 seconds is a teachable moment.

3. Be understanding. That’s right. Remember how you really wanted to see the movie or listen to the music that your friends (or older admired sis or brother) were into? Don’t tell me you never said, “but everyone is going to see that!” As you tap into that middle schooler that resides deep in your memory, you can express empathy. Yeah, it’s a drag when we can’t do what our friends are doing. But sometimes, that’s the reality.

4. Voice objections. If you don’t like something, say why you don’t like it. Sometimes we’re tempted to say “you’re not watching that because I said so!” It’s easy–but it doesn’t help our kids develop their media IQ. Be real–share that you object to that program because you don’t like how teen relationships are represented and you really want your kids to grow up viewing examples of teens who have healthy positive relationships with each other.

5. Explain the marketing. Those 40,000 commercials aren’t just selling toys–they’re selling fun, cool, friendship, thinness, popularity, sexiness, affluence and more. Help kids learn to distinguish between the product and the promises.

6. Explore alternative media. I’ve been a big fan of New Moon for some years. New Moon is a safe online community and magazine by girls, for girls. Here’s a description of the magazine: “You won’t find diet advice or popularity contests here! New Moon Girls magazine is 100% advertising-free and dedicated to helping girls discover and honor their true selves. Created by girls, for girls.” If you sign up for New Moon, you can use this link to let them and us know that you learned about them through our website: Another project of New Moon Publishing is–a great site for parents looking for resources to help empower their girls. Do a search for their media literacy articles–you’ll find tons of them.

7. Encourage media literacy programs. There are some great ones out there. The curriculum can be used in schools, after-school and youth programs. Encourage your child’s school and youth programs to consider helping kids be media smart.

Want to read more? Get inspired and empowered with these resources and books.

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D. and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.

“Tuning into Her Music” by Helen Cordes, former editor of Daughters Magazine and author of Girl Power in the Mirror and Girl Power in the Classroom.

Resources from the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

1. Here is the Report itself:

2. Here are Tips and Guidelines for Parents:

3. More Media Literacy Resources (for girls, boys, and adults–including sites with classroom resources for teaching medial literacy):


First published in the Orange Cat
Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.

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