The following blog post was written by Eye On Education Editor Lauren Beebe.
We live in an outstandingly media-rich world. Waking to our smart phones, working on our computers, and falling asleep with our TVs, it should come as no surprise that the average American sees thousands of advertisements each day. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young children are “cognitively defenseless” against advertising.
We’ve all heard statistics about how many hours children spend in front of the TV, read about studies that link video gaming with violent behavior, and worried about how children’s self-images are influenced by all those impossibly skinny magazine models. But only recently have some educators decided to address the concerns of media’s influence by incorporating “media literacy” into the K–12 curriculum.
Frank W. Baker, a nationally recognized media educator and author of Media Literacy in the K–12 Classroom, writes, “many of our students are media savvy—they know how to upload and download with ease—but they are not necessarily media literate. They don’t think critically about their media exposure." According to the CCSS, “The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research, media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section.”
Schools and educational programs can also “vaccinate” students against advertising in more explicit ways. Here are a few ideas:
- Teach students to question what ads tell them. Share the Photoshop "Hall of Shame" or "The Photoshop Effect" with students. Did they know that almost every photo in magazines and ads has been digitally altered? How do these impossible ideals influence how students perceive their own appearance and success?
- Explain how students can recognize false representations of reality. Ask students to examine different popular TV shows and discuss how different groups of people are portrayed. How do the shows stereotype certain people? What groups are marginalized or entirely absent?
- Show students how the media influences behavior. Recognizing the often illogical subtexts of advertisements deprives them of power. Encourage students to “spell out” the promises, threats, or pleas made in commercials (e.g., “If you buy this sports drink, you will win the basketball game,” “If you don’t have this phone, your friends will shun you”).
- Give students the means to reveal the "truth" behind advertising. For a fun activity, invite students to create their own “ad-busting” or “subvertising” artwork to reveal the “truth” behind, for example, cereal mascots or popular products.
You can also engage students in larger projects to create their own media or to petition for change in existing publications:
- A Madison-based group called “Project Girl” uses art to educate youth about mass media advertising: “[Advertiser’s] messages are defining the way we view ourselves and those around us, affecting our health, our relationships, and how happy we are each and every day. Most of us don’t realize what’s going on, how our lives are being controlled." Project Girl seeks to "discover ways to resist the messages advertisers are using to manipulate our lives.”
- Julia Bluhm, an eight-grader from Waterville, ME, launched an online petition urging magazines to stop printing digitally altered photos of their models. After she collected over 84,000 signatures, Seventeen magazine pledged to never “digitally alter the body or face shapes of its models."