The Current State of Media & Children

Our children live in a world of powerful 24/7 media. In addition to children’s exposure to traditional forms of media and advertisements like television, print (magazines, books), and billboards, new media has exploded in recent years. Over the last decade, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of time children and youth are engaging with media, particularly digital media. Children ages 2 to 8 spend an average of two hours per day, children between 8 and 12 spend four to six hours, and adolescents over 12 years old spend an average of seven to nine hours per day, according to recent research. Media is everywhere and technology is a part of life. However, with children spending such large amounts of time online and in front of screens, they are exposed to messages and information that can have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing and prevent them from becoming empowered and engaged citizens.

The messages, images, information, and experiences we engage with every day through media help shape our beliefs, attitudes, values, and identity. Used well, media can entertain, inform, and engage our children in positive ways. Media use helps young people become more competent in a digital age. Additionally, media allows for children and young people to express themselves and connect with others who are like them. Not to mention the ability to foster relationships with family members and friends that may not live locally. And in the wake of the COVID pandemic, we’ve learned so much about how children learn and how we can best harness technology in educational settings.

However, the negative impact that media can have on our children is profound. When we think about the ways in which media can have a negative impact, some that come to mind include:

  • Online safety
  • Cyberbullying
  • Incorrect information
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression and suicide
  • Substance abuse and other risky behaviors
  • Negative body image
  • Reinforcement of stereotypes

So what can we do about this? This is where media literacy comes in.

Our Definition of Media Literacy

We define media literacy as the ability to:
  • Decode media messages (including the systems in which they exist);
  • Assess the influence of those messages on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and
  • Create media thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Like reading or math, media literacy is learned. The ability to navigate within our complex and ever-changing media landscape depends on acquiring skills and tools to know how to consume and evaluate information, ask critical questions, avoid manipulation, and engage in digital spaces safely and confidently. Unfortunately, these skills are not widely taught to our young people – yet.

With our state advocacy leaders, we have developed expanded definitions of closely associated terms to help advocates and policy makers . Media and communication technologies are changing quickly, and the terms we use are sometimes not well defined. Our expanded definitions on this page stem from a desire to assist policymakers and advocates in driving policy changes that lead to media literacy education for all K-12 students.

The Need for Media Literacy Education

Media literacy education provides us with the tools and skills needed to be confident and competent media consumers.

Media literacy:
  • Expands the concept of literacy, as today’s messages come in many forms and literacy can no longer refer simply to the ability to read and write.
  • Offers a solution to public health issues, such as body image issues and substance use, exacerbated by toxic media messages.
  • Empowers all people to engage in a global media environment.

Media literacy is literacy. Ideally, all school districts would incorporate media literacy into all subjects at all grade levels. Media literacy is not meant to be an add-on to an already full curriculum. It’s an educational approach or practice that establishes a habit of inquiry that is content-neutral and can be applied in any classroom. However, as we collectively advocate for this ideal, we support and celebrate progress in all forms. There are a number of potential policy approaches that will help us arrive at this ideal. From statutory laws mandating media literacy teaching in schools, education standards that explicitly include media literacy education, instructional resource recommendations, and funding for teacher training – there are a number of ways to get media literacy education into more classrooms. And an overwhelming majority – 84% – of people want media literacy education to be required in schools.

Media Literacy Now is leading the grassroots movement to create a public education system that ensures all students learn the 21st century literacy skills they need for health, well-being, economic participation, and citizenship. We invite you to join our movement:


Learn how you can push for media literacy education in your school, community, or state.

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