Are we missing opportunities to nurture and engage our children by relating to their media?
Over the last decade, I have been running media literacy classes in a wide variety of schools and educational programmes. I teach parents, educators and students how to make media, assess it, and use it responsibly. The students range from 7-17 years of age. I’ve learned the most from them. One of the key lessons they’ve taught me is that: Young people are emotionally invested in their media.
This isn’t a throw away point. Its crucial. Because if we really understand that, then we might approach discussions about media with our children a little differently. It makes sense when you think about it. Media touches every part of their daily lives. It is structurally integrated into their worlds at school and often, at home. Social media tools allow them to connect, collaborate, work, learn, play, support, fight, prank, hate, hurt, love, obsess, confess, perform, hide, accuse, make up, etc.. – everything that humans do in their daily interactions with each other. And young people are no exception. In fact, they are just starting to explore the bigger world and search for their place within it. Do we remember what that was like?
Parents often express to me their worries about screen time, addiction, lack of reading, or face-to-face socialising, predators, pranking, violent or sexual online content, social isolation, immediate gratification, sedentary lifestyles and a host of other issues. This is often the frame of mind I encounter when I talk to parents or teachers. And yes, these are concerns – I am a parent too. But it seems to me, the discussions often frame our children’s use of social media from a hierarchical place in which we privilege our adult concerns and fears and forget that our children are dealing with a complex array of daily human interactions that might not always be visible in our field of “attention”. And this has got me thinking: are we missing opportunities to nurture and engage our children by relating to their media? Especially given that it encompasses things they are so emotionally tied to?
A few years ago, I decided to start documenting young people in order to learn more about how they experienced childhood, screens, parents and school. I’m a filmmaker so I picked up my camera and began interviewing children ranging from 9-17 years of age. I filmed children with whom I had worked for many years and whose parents I knew well. I’m also a parent of two wonderful teenagers so I filmed them and many of their friends.
The interviews were more like regular conversations – the kinds we would have in class or at home. The children decided what they wanted to talk about. I would then film as we talked. Afterwards, I cut clips from the interviews and had both parents and children “green light” the content. All the children chose random usernames which is their identity for this project, which I call “Friends Like Me”.
In this blog, I aim to share what I’m learning from children with parents and educators because I have been blown away by so much of what the children have to say. I really and truly believe that by listening to them, we can build a more nuanced, gentle, intergenerational dialogue about the fact that we are ALL living in a media saturated culture and we are ALL looking for balance, meaning and connection. Wouldn’t it be amazing, if we could pull resources and do this together?