Media literacy educator Amy VanDeVelde says thoughtful media consumption is a life skill that should be taught and practiced in homes from a child’s early years through adulthood.
Many parents may not realize that cartoon character Sponge Bob Square Pants lives in a place called Bikini Bottoms or take much notice that Teletubbies are baby-like creatures with TV screens and antennae built into their anatomy.
However, media literacy educator Amy VanDeVelde says thoughtful media consumption is a life skill that should be taught and practiced in homes from a child’s early years through adulthood.
“I want adults to think of themselves as gatekeepers when it comes to media,” VanDeVelde said in a recent presentation at the Pekin (Ill.) Public Library.
VanDeVelde’s message focused as much on healthy parenting methods as media literacy, embracing the reality that in today’s world, the two are inextricably linked.
Television, film, music and unlimited information on the Internet, all converging on hand-held mobile devices, are impacting young people at a rate inconceivable by previous generations. VanDeVelde punctuated this fact with opening statistics that on average, children spend at least 40 percent less time with their parents now than in the 1960s, and 54 percent of 4- to 6-year-old respondents would rather watch TV than do something fun with their fathers.
Although youth media use has also officially exceeded time spent in school — the Kaiser Family Institute estimates an average of 7.5 real-time hours of consumption a day — VanDeVelde says monitoring access and amount of exposure is only part of the issue.
“My main concern is that we are losing the capability for contemplative thought,” she said. “Children are in response mode. They are constantly responding to what they see in the media. As adults, we need to teach them to take time, think about what they’re seeing, and then respond.”
VanDeVelde, who resides in St. Louis, is reaching out to various audiences with a message promoting critical thinking, combining her educational background in communications with career experience in corporate training.
While her professional experiences converged, VanDeVelde, a mother of two, said she was also trying to lessen the influence of the media in her own home. She now balances parenting with presenting, and constantly gains perspective and practice in regard to media literacy while raising her own children.
“I try to teach them about opportunity-cost,” she said. “I ask, what are you missing while you’re plugged in?”
Emphasizing that for youth, socializing has become nearly synonymous with the use of digital devices, VanDeVelde touched on the negative side of cyber-relationships, including cyber bullying and inappropriate sexual messaging.
The “technology explosion” has exceeded the maturity level youth need to manage their “media diet,” she said, hence the importance of caring adults.
A second-grade teacher and mother of young children, Marj Oesch attended the presentation out of concern for media’s impact, and left with “mixed emotions,” she said.
“I love technology, but I do understand the other side and all we have to consider.”
Just last week, Oesch’s second-graders gave PowerPoint presentations, including educational content from the Internet, to their parents during teacher conferences. “It was great,” Oesch said. “I think this is the future.”
VanDeVelde also recognized that information technology represents a now-permanent way of life with certain benefits, while advocating for awareness regarding its use.
Information-seeking affects the amount of dopamine in the brain, for example, lending to the addictive nature of media use for some people.
VanDeVelde used statistics linking media consumption to health factors, such as inadequate sleep among youth and potential harm from mobile device radiation, to reinforce the concept that media affects the physical and mental well-being of the “whole child.”
“We just don’t know what we are doing in regard to brain development,” she said.
Pekin Daily Times