A media mentor for every child

By Anne Collier

Author and journalist Lisa Guernsey has a great idea – one that clearly grows out of her research for the recent book, Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child, and her work in early childhood education for public policy think tank the New America Foundation. [I loved her cover story for The Atlantic based on the book and wrote about it here.]

In a just-released TEDx talk, she asked, “What if we were to commit to ensure that every family with young children had access to a media mentor?” This doesn’t have to be daunting or expensive. It doesn’t have to be a special new position to create anywhere, she’s quick to add, knowing schools’ and libraries’ budgets, but all the more reason than ever to stop eliminating school librarians’ and media specialists’ jobs and consciously, collectively include old and new media literacy lessons in schools and public libraries. Because media mentors come in all forms, including elementary school teachers, school and public librarians, middle school language arts teachers, American lit teachers and parents! What matters is people in children’s lives who 1) really care about them and their futures, 2) embrace digital media as well as the traditional kind, seeing how important that is for their future and 3) engage with them in the media they love.

Guernsey knows well that not all children have parents who can help them turn media into tools for sound learning and development, so media mentoring needs to part of their formal and informal learning experiences, whether in school, public libraries, museums or after school programs. This can but doesn’t have to require hours of professional development training – just a conscious effort to engage with young media users and a will to keep learning. It also requires a growing awareness of this need, which hopefully will turn into broad public support. This will help young people think critically about and develop resilience from whatever they’re confronted with in traditional and social media – help them develop the all-important filtering software in their heads, the kind that comes pre-installed and improves with use!

Speaking to all adults, Guernsey concludes with: “We have the power to talk with our kids about what they’re seeing, to understand the media in new ways with them, to help them see how it might relate to their outside world, how to look up from their media…. I want kids today to have people around them who are interacting with them while they’re interacting with media.” I do too!

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