Teaching Young Children to be Sophisticated Media Consumers

VanderBorght, Mieke Alexis, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
DeLoache, Judy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

By the time children graduate from high school they will have spent almost twice as much time watching television as they have spent being in school (Vande Berg, Wenner, & Gronbeck, 2004). This experience starts early: almost half of American children under 6 spend more than 2 hours with television in a typical day (Rideout & Hamel, 2006). Children learn many things from the messages television transmits. It is therefore essential that just as we teach children to read and interpret printed material, we also teach even very young children to read the media. In the current study, two ways in which 3- and 5-year-olds may learn to think critically about television messages were explored. In an experience condition, children experienced that messages they heard on television were actually not true. In a testimony condition, the experimenter told children that the messages were not true. Then, all children, plus those in a control group, watched different speakers making claims regarding factual (e.g., labels for novel objects), preference (e.g., which if two novel toys was best), and behavior (e.g., in which of two boxes children would find a sticker) information. Children chose to either endorse or reject the claims. Results showed that 5-year-olds were generally more likely to reject the claims than were 3-year-olds. However, whereas 5-year-olds were skeptical of factual and behavioral information, they were persuaded by preference claims. Chance comparisons in each experimental group revealed some learning by the 3-year-olds in the experience condition and by the 5-year-olds in the experience and testimony conditions. These results suggest that talking to older preschoolers about the veracity of television messages may help them become critical television viewers. Furthermore, giving both older and younger preschoolers direct, intensive media literacy instruction may help guide them to be sophisticated media consumers.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
children, media influence, teaching
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