Thursday, January 3, 2013

Media literacy and child rearing

In my "I'm going to teach English and stuff!" days, my specialty wasn't speech or reading or writing.  It was media literacy.  I'm not persuaded that media literacy belongs in a classroom with understanding literature and basic reading/writing, but it might.  It's certainly one of the more crucial literacies in the world today since there's lots to know and only so much time to understand everything.  I'll make the case that health/science literacy is also absolutely crucial.

Anyway, I read a very lovely post about our role in media literacy for young people, and how damaging kids' stuff that has bad role modeling in it really is.  A very short summary of the post: feminism is a big deal, and explaining the anti-woman stuff going on in the media (notably kids' movies) to kids in particular is important.  I'm going to try hard to keep the kid away from the specific movie mentioned (Beauty and the Beast) but it's more complicated than just explaining it.

I grew up with a something-or-other wave feminist-trained mother who'd given up all the trappings of her wave to stay home and raise children aside from the lectures on various things.  Scary movies were a very popular subject, but I've realized it's because my mother is terrified of them and actually doesn't concern the movies themselves.  The anti-woman stuff though, those lectures were notorious and repetitive.

I'm not convinced that it was effective to lecture 5 year old me about how terrible the relationship between Belle and the Beast was.  It was a nice idea but mostly I hated her ruining a nice movie by dissecting it and being mean about it (and sometimes trying to keep me from seeing things without explaining what was so awful about it).

So I get that we can't explain the controlling relationships of movies to 5 year olds without wringing all the fun out of being 5.  What do we do instead?  I've been considering that.  Here's my idea.

I think we do talk about the terrible media depictions of women and relationships as they come up, but we need to show a good example at the same time.  We need to limit the length of lectures because of short attention spans among little ones.  My kid doesn't need to know why it's bad that the Beast shouts at Belle, she just needs to know that it's never OK for a person to yell at someone they care about (and then I need to do that because "but everyone else [or Mommy] is doing thing x you just said I shouldn't do! Why can't I do it?" is very powerful in the 3-10 year old set). 

I also refuse to prohibit movies because they have awful depictions of women and women's roles, because that punishes the kid unnecessarily and we skip those chances for conversation.  I will however try really hard to find good example movies and show those too, then discuss the difference between the two.

We need to keep having the dialogue and doing the critical thinking as adults so we're ready to have the conversations with kids.  My part is to know what's wrong in media my kid(s) consume and to point it out in succinct ways when there's the opportunity without being judgy and dream-quashing.  It's a fine line and I need to keep my personal feelings out of it when explaining the facts about media she's consuming.  Example: it makes me mad that Gaston is so mean to Belle and stages a riot trying to imprison the Beast when she continues to ignore him.  The facts don't involve my anger.  Objectively, it's just wrong that a man won't accept "no" from a woman, so I can point that out.

I'm very fortunate to have a spouse who's also game to point out the awful things in the media the kid consumes, so it's a team effort.  I think one of the things that frustrated me so much about my parents' relationship was how one-sided it was - lectures from mom, silence from dad.  It was clear there was no unification of child-rearing goals, and as the child in the crossfire, I was very prone to avoid the whole thing and ignore it as an attempt at brainwashing.

I'll continue to struggle with a kid who just figured out she should do and like what all the other girls do and like, and that includes getting into trouble together (on purpose) and doing bad stuff together.  Explaining why she should stick up for what she knows is right (and to trust us about what is, in fact, right) will stay a struggle, but we'll stick with it.  Did I mention I hate girl drama, and what if we have another one? Girl drama for the next 18+ years... oh my.

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