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Teaching Our Kids to Be Media Literate

Photograph by Getty Images

A few months back, I read an alarming headline in the Wall Street Journal claiming, “Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake.” According to the Stanford University study cited in that article, “82 percent of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story on a website” and “more than two out of three couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help.”

If you think these statistics are scary, consider that this study was conducted prior to President Trump’s war on the media or Kellyanne Conway’s assertion of “alternative facts.” While Trump’s frequent indictments of “fake news” may be nothing more than an attack on his critics, the truth is that disinformation runs rampant on the internet, and none of us are entirely immune to its charms. Take, for example, this New York Times article, which shows how a tweet with absolutely no basis in fact (written by a man with only 40 Twitter followers) ended up going viral and being re-tweeted to millions by Donald J. Trump himself. Or maybe you were one of the thousands like me who clicked “like” when a poster for a joyous inauguration-day “Freedom Concert” appeared in your Facebook feed. Spoiler alert: This event didn’t really exist.

So, how are we supposed to teach our kids to distinguish fact from fiction when we have a hard time doing it ourselves? The answer is media literacy. And for today’s youth—who spend an average of seven hours a day interacting with various forms of media—it might be as important as reading or math. Yet, for most schools, media literacy isn’t part of the current curriculum, leaving students without these vitally needed 21st-century skills. As a mother, I find this troubling. But as a citizen of the world, it downright terrifies me. Without the ability to determine what’s real from what’s not, then the concept of “truth” no longer exists.

If this train of thought sends you careening down the rabbit hole, you’re in good company. But rather than give in to those feelings of hopelessness, I decided to do something about it. After all, I’d spent years volunteering in my son’s schools—organizing fundraisers and leading afterschool enrichment programs. What was stopping me from going in and giving a talk on media literacy? Though I have no formal training in this area, I’ve spent my entire 20-plus-year career working in media, so, with a little research, I was able to craft two Google Docs on the topics of media literacy and gender in the media. Then, I simply called up my son’s middle school principal and volunteered to share this information. Last week, I delivered a 30-minute presentation to the faculty.

The teachers were grateful. And when I shared my experience on Facebook, I received an outpouring of requests from parents wanting to bring media literacy into their own children’s schools.

Below are the links to the documents I used in my presentation, which are packed with educator tools and lesson plans, as well as articles, videos and infographics. Now it’s your turn to go out and share them.

As mothers, we all have an uncanny ability to get sh*t done and, with that, comes the power to create change. These days, it’s easy to panic over every disturbing headline we read; the best way to counter that is by taking action. So I invite you to use my presentation, modify it and help me improve on it. With our grassroots efforts, we can show our kids that fake news isn’t the only thing to go viral.

Click here for the MEDIA LITERACY presentation.

Click here for the GENDER IN THE MEDIA presentation.

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