One wish after the pandemic: teaching every child media literacy
In a year since the pandemic turned our lives upside down and brought us into our homes, one of the many notable changes that has taken place is our increasing reliance on the internet. In March 2020, global internet traffic rose 15 to 30 percent in just a few days, driven by the conversion of our homes into offices and classrooms, as well as our increased appetite for video streaming, games, social media and online shopping. In the early days of the pandemic, children were taken to online areas to keep up their study progress and stayed there to maintain social connections or to pass the time when other options weren’t available.
When the new academic year began in the fall, students in the United States had different experiences – from personal to completely remote to hybrid school models. These differences persist, but Internet use is increasing among all children. As a parent, I believe children have benefited from this newfound screen time when learning and healthy social connections are nurtured, as I have seen my own children. However, I worry that at this moment, as parents and schools are burdened with the added responsibilities associated with the pandemic, many children are delving deeper into the internet with no guidance or the skills to navigate it skillfully .
Social media bubbles, misleading advertisements, risks to privacy and personal information, misinformation, misrepresentations – these are just some of the problems we need to understand better in order to counteract them, or at least not to be overwhelmed by them. With 4.66 billion internet users, more than 2 million mobile apps and over 1.1 billion websites in the world, there are many people, content, opportunities and risks that are largely untested and easily accessible to everyone, including the youngest of us . Teaching our children the skills – the digital and media skills – to have the power over their own safety, wellbeing and success when we brought them online at such a young age is our shared responsibility and we cannot wait longer.
Media literacy is the ability to access all forms of communication, to analyze, evaluate, shape and act on them. Teaching these skills to anyone from an early age seems like such a simple argument. In reality, this is not happening on a broad, systemic, comprehensive level. I saw this when I walked into the classroom before the pandemic and shared my knowledge with students in the United States and elsewhere. I know from thousands of parents I have dealt with over the past twelve years that they do not understand the role they play in helping their children with these skills. I hear from educators and school administrators that it is necessary, but they often don’t have the resources to support it.
The lack of media literacy is where we are today when people believe that the first thing they see in one search engine is the truth when something they saw in one app appears in or from another A rigged video is misled into engaging in risky behavior during a pandemic, or questioning the outcome of an election.
Many of us are committed to ensuring that our children are ready for the world in which they live. Organizations like Media Literacy Now are pushing for state lawmakers to prioritize media literacy education in schools, but report only 14 states showing any form of leadership in this area. The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), of which I am chair, has increased membership, raised awareness, supported educators, and formed alliances to bring media literacy to high value and widely practiced. These organizations need and deserve our support.
My own organization has invested years in promoting digital citizenship, online safety, and media literacy education in communities around the world. We’ve also started to couple those efforts by developing free tools like Trend Micro Check (real-time fraud detection) and Trend Micro Family (safe internet filtering for kids) that we hope can aid this effort. Neither of us is giving up this fight, especially at a time when longer screen time is of great importance to children and we are starting to think about what we have learned from the pandemic and how we will apply it in the year ahead.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of NAMLE: “The future of our country depends on our children’s ability to navigate the media-rich environment in which they grow up. We need to make media literacy a national priority for every child. “
Maybe this wish will soon come true.
Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Children and Families program, which aims to help children around the world become great digital citizens. The program, founded in 2008, has now reached over 2.8 million students, parents and teachers in 20 countries.