At the Founding Summit of ACME in 2002, Dr Sut Jhally declared, “Media literacy is so dangerous to media corporations that they have moved to hijack the movement as it builds momentum.” Owners of media corporations know that critiques about the way screen-entertainers and marketers take advantage of children are legitimate. They also know that such critiques are dangerous to the way they do business. That’s why they provide financial support to organizations calling themselves “educational,” groups that try to denigrate and dismiss critics by calling them “media bashers.” They spend money and expend energy on public relations to protect the image of corporations taking advantage of children’s vulnerabilities rather than building youth empowerment to help children face the ultra-mediated world in which they live.
Why would parents, teachers, and all of us citizens of the world need media education? Don’t we already have enough work, too many responsibilities? In order for children to thrive, adults need to understand that screen entertainment is addictive and screen entertainers are seductive.
Behind screens, three industries work together to increase children’s screen-time exposure: producers, broadcasters, and marketers. The third one feeds the other two with abundant funding, forcing networks to compete to attract more young people in the audience for longer periods of time and as soon as possible after their birth. Viewership, after all, determines broadcasters’ revenues from marketers.
Without early education and training, children are at risk; for professionals, the attention and interest of kids and teens are easy to catch, and thus these young people are easily made into consumers of merchandise and other “product.” Toddlers are even more at risk since the industry started marketing products that are supposedly good for babies, including seats digitally equipped “for” very small children, from newborns to toddlers.
Without comprehensive information, many parents will believe that screen exposure (including the use of iPads) will make their child technologically advanced and digitally brilliant. Marketing professionals get paid to use the most recent knowledge in psychology and neurology to take advantage of young people’s vulnerabilities, including neutralization of their parents’ awareness with the nag factor.
Legislation against child-abusive strategies by advertisers has been proved to protect children from obesity (New York Times, July 2012). But the lobby against child-protective regulation has become so aggressive against elected officials that very few would dare mentioning it in the program of their party, for fear of being accused of censorship.
To become trusted by parents and teachers, media education must be totally independent from the industry. If not, it is nothing but public relations to silence critiques from scientists, parents, teachers, and public deciders, while at the same time making child abusers look like generous saviors.
Media education has been proved to help reduce screen-time exposure while at the same time preventing various health problems, including obesity, aggressiveness and tendency toward bullying and violence, parents’ harassment by children to get toys or junk food, Internet addiction, gaming disorders, video game addiction, tobacco and alcohol consumption, ADHD, and early sexualization.
October 1999. Journal of the American Medical Association. The S.M.A.R.T. Program, created by the Prevention Research Center of Stanford School of Medicine.
July 2012. New York Times. Ban on advertising to children linked to lower obesity rates.
January 2014. PBS Newshour. Treating China’s Internet addicts.
July 2014. Psychology Today. Internet Gaming Disorder “Condition for Further Study” in DSM-5.
March 2014, Italy. International Congress on Internet Addiction Disorders.