Smart phones, cell phones, e-readers, Ipods…these are some of the most popular media devices that today’s youth are in constant reach of.  That has created the need for a new type of education, known as Media Literacy.  This type of 21-st century education is about allowing students to understand what they see on TV, read online, see on social networking sites, and listen to.

What Media Literacy is NOT…

Internet safety is important.  Chatting with strangers in online rooms is dangerous.  Friending complete strangers on social networking sites is frightening, but none of these are media literacy.  Media literacy is not about “protecting” kids.   Today’s culture has embedded media in a way that requires our youth to understand it, rather than try to escape it.

What IS Media Literacy?

Media literacy is about arming students with the knowledge to understand what they might be watching, reading, or listening to.  Students must be able to harness these technologies in their vast array if they are going to become competent young adults.

Today’s students are very much aware of how to access information, but this is only one component of media literacy.                According to the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms. 

Basic Principles:

Regardless of whether students are exploring books, newspapers, magazines, movies, radio broadcasts, video games, the Internet, television programs, or other forms of technology, advocates of media literacy emphasize that understand five basic principles is key to media literacy.

  1. Media message are constructed.
  2. Messages are representations of reality with embedded values and points of view.
  3. Each form of media uses a unique set of rules to construct messages.
  4. Individuals interpret media messages and create their own interpretation based on personal experience.
  5. Media are driven by profit.

Does Media Literacy Education Even Exist?

Within the United States, there is not a national policy on Media Literacy.  Meanwhile, there are many policymakers that strongly endorse the need to educate children about media.  It seems that all fifty states are doing just that by incorporating at least one element of media literacy into their core curriculum.  Much of this is done in English, social studies, or health.

Recently the United States has also witnessed the development of two major organizations to assist in this movement:  Alliance for Media Literate America (AMLA) and Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME).

Those strongly advocated for media literacy education also encourage the need for students to not learn about this in isolation within the classroom, citing the need for programs that teach it after school, in summer camps, and even in faith-based organizations.   Furthermore, media education must also find its way into the home, where families can discus s media content with children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National PTA are also promoting media literacy education programs and the need for students to be informed, so they can grow into productive, well-prepared young adults.

Why is Media Literacy SO Important?

Those that are actively involved in media literacy education have already noted many benefits to their efforts.

  • Those actively involved in teaching students how to response to TV violence found that its last impact on students was reduced.
  • A program targeting high-risk youth found that their decision-making skills improved.
  • A media literacy program targeting females found that they gained a greater self-acceptance.
  • Media literacy education targeting alcohol ads found that the ads had diminished affects, with viewers being more likely to see the long-term effects of alcohol  consumption.
  • Other programs have found that media message analysis with English as a secondary language (ESL) students can promote literacy skills.
  • Media literacy education programs have also been used to promote social skills, while discouraging drug use.

Analyzing Media Messages:

Today’s youth have no problems accessing media, but we must help to prepare them with how to process the information that they encounter.  One way that parents, educators, and health professionals can promote such analysis is through five basic questions:


Analyzing media messages is not something that students may be eager to do.  As an audience who may not understand the damage that media can do, media education must be done utilizing a variety of activities.   Students can analyze commercials, magazine ads, fast food advertisements, cereal boxes, or even cartoons.

Media Messages Are Everywhere!

Today’s media messages are everywhere!  This alone should speak volumes as to why our students deserve to be educated in a way that allows them to process what they are constantly exposed to.  Media is not going away, so pretending that it doesn’t exist will only cause further problems.  It is time that we embrace a culture of messages and promote an education that actively arms our students to analyze and evaluate the messages that they view.


Below are some links to websites relating to media literacy to help readers gain access to more information.

External Resources

What is media literacy?