Media literacy has received a lot of attention over the past year thanks to the 2016 presidential election and Americans’ newfound interest in “fake news” and “alternative facts.” But media literacy education is hardly new.
The National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), whose precursor organization dates back to the late 1990s, defines media literacy as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act upon all forms of media communication. “Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators and active citizens,” NAMLE explains.
As such, media literacy is an ideal vehicle to educate young people about health and wellness, negative social pressures, and the dangers that alcohol, tobacco and drugs pose to them and to their communities. The average teenager today is bombarded with messages regarding the glamorization of substance use. From movies, TV shows and songs to magazine advertising, web ads, and even video games, alcohol and marijuana consumption, in particular, are routinely framed in celebratory and socially desirous fashion.
Among other things, media literacy education provides students with the tools to critically analyze media messages through deconstruction, and it empowers them to not only evaluate the validity of the information but to also respond to and counter messaging through the creation of their own media content. Literacy is about understanding. How and why do companies use advertising to prey on teen’s personal and social insecurities? How and why do movie studios stereotype young people, particularly those in and around their college years? How and why do songs about alcohol and drugs seemingly normalize substance abuse?
The indirect social pressures on today’s teens are innumerable, particularly in the ever-growing mobile media landscape where young people spend so much of their time. Media literacy education provides the skills necessary to see, understand and react to this mediated version of reality, because only then can one challenge and identify alternative facts.
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