By Tamara Sobel, J.D., C.S.E.
National Advisor for Health & Media Literacy, Media Literacy Now
Certified Health & Sexuality Educator

In the last several years, prompted by the rise in awareness about misinformation and disinformation spreading on social media, there has been an increasing interest in teaching critical thinking skills around media – media literacy – to students. Largely these skills are beginning to be taught in the context of civics, social science, and current events to middle and high school students as teachers themselves develop professionally to prepare for instruction needed in our digital age. 

However, teaching media literacy skills pertaining to behavioral health and about conscious use of media including social media – increasingly referred to as “Digital Wellness” – is more recently emerging as a crucial application of media literacy skills education in the health education classroom and through other child and student health support services.

One area of increasing concern in our current culture is the rising level of anxiety and depression, eating disorders, as well as sexual harassment and online abuse affecting young people, many of these affecting girls especially.1  While there are many factors at play, the increased time young people spend onscreen and online is a contributing factor to a rise in youth mental health conditions. Social media’s commercially driven landscape of repetitive and calculated imagery and messages driven by algorithms, a constant fueling of comparison, envy and FOMO, the prevalence of cyberbullying and sexual harassment– all contribute to young people today facing significant and increased risks to their emotional health and well-being. 2  

There is evidence that learning general media literacy critical thinking skills supports improved health literacy.3 And there are numerous examples of how teaching media literacy’s critical thinking skills around specific health and wellness topics has been shown to be effective in shaping healthier behaviors in young people:

  • Critical thinking around media use has been shown to be an effective form of protection from the mindsets that lead to eating disorders, poor body image, low self-esteem and depression.4
  • To address harmful messages conveyed to increasingly young children by explicit sexual media and pornography, media literacy-infused sex education as well as “porn literacy” is emerging as an effective intervention in disrupting abuse-condoning attitudes around gender and sex.5
  • Media literacy curriculum has been shown to change attitudes and decision-making about substance abuse.6
  • Media literacy education has been shown to change attitudes and behaviors around anger management and violence.7

Media Literacy Now, and its allied individuals and organizations, supports the expansion of teaching media literacy and digital wellness as a key part of preventative measures to address the prevalent and deeply troubling state of behavioral health disorders that affect young people in our digital age. We cannot ignore the impact – both positive and potentially negative – digital life has on young people, or overlook the urgent need to teach students to use technology safely, responsibly, and with their best health in mind.

Update: Media Literacy Now launched “Prepare & Prevent: Addressing Mental Health and Child Safety through Large Scale Digital Wellness Education” to highlight the urgency of Digital Wellness education and health-related media literacy for K-12 students today. Read the press release.



1 CDC report shows concerning increases in sadness and exposure to violence among teen girls and LGBQ+ youth especially:,performance%2C%20and%20other%20severe%20consequences 

2 U.S. Surgeon General Youth Mental Health Advisory (December 2021)

3 P. Parandeh Afshar, F. Keshavarz, M. Dehghan; (2022) Health Literacy and Media Literacy: Is There Any Relation? Community Health Equity Research & Policy Volume 42, Issue 2

4 Matthews, H. (2016). The Effect of Media Literacy Training on the Self- Esteem and Body-Satisfaction Among Fifth Grade Girls. Walden University;

Levine, M. (2016) Media Literacy as an Effective and Promising Form of Eating Disorders Prevention. Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue. Retrieved from;

Kagie, M. (2018) Preventing Eating Disorders by Promoting media literacy and Rejecting Harmful Dieting Based Mentalities. The BYU Undergraduate Journal of Psychology. 13(1) 64-80.];

Wade, T. D., Davidson, S., & O’Dea, J. A. (2003). Preliminary controlled evaluation of a school-based media literacy program and self-esteem program for reducing eating disorder risk factors. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(4), 371-383.Wechsler, H., Nelson, T. F., Lee, J. E., Seibring, M., Lewis, C., & Keeling, R. P. (2003). 

5  Scull, T.M., Dodson, C.V., Geller, J.G. et al. A Media Literacy Education Approach to High School Sexual Health Education: Immediate Effects of Media Aware on Adolescents’ Media, Sexual Health, and Communication Outcomes. J Youth Adolescence 51, 708–723 (2022). ; E. Rothman, N.Daley, J. Adler, ( 2020) A Pornography Literacy Program for Adolescents, Am J Public Health. 2020 February; 110(2): 154–156,

Note: Students are not shown pornography in these curricula.

6 J. Kupersmidt (2012), Improving Media Message Interpretation Processing Skills to Promote Healthy Decision Making About Substance Use: The Effects of the Middle School Media Ready Curriculum, Journal of Health Communication, Vol.17 Issue 5,

Flashpoint: An Innovative Media Literacy Intervention for High-Risk Adolescents,, cited in J.Moore, N.Dechillo, B.Nicholson, A. Genovese, S.Sladen, Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Volume: 51 Issue: 2 (Spring 2000)

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