Every morning, I wake up certain the news, my email, and social media will be flooded with headlines about Donald Trump. While political coverage is most commonly found in The New York Times or on Fox News, Trump is dominating pop culture and blurring the line between politics and entertainment. Our fascination with him, and the media's efforts to satisfy it, has sent a terrible message to our youth: Racism, sexism, bullying and lies get attention and validation.
The 24-hour news cycle creates an unmonitored echo chamber, allowing damaging or untrue comments to influence opinion without accountability. As Director of Communications and Development for The LAMP, an NYC-based nonprofit organization working to broaden children and young people's critical engagement with media, I see first-hand the influence media has on our kids. Our youth come across as many as 5,000 media messages a day. The messages they receive through entertainment, news, and advertising have become so normalized that they're often not aware of the subtle ways in which those messages change behavior and influence thinking.
Young people deserve honest information and deserve for their voice to be heard. But, decoding today's media doesn't come automatically or naturally. This isn't about partisanship, or endorsing any given candidate. It's about empowering our kids with the media literacy skills they need to overcome limiting stereotypes and talk back to misleading media. These skills are essential for everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation or circumstance, in order to thrive in this media-heavy world.
The most encouraging response came recently with many in the media saying, "Enough." After Trump's proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from traveling to the United States, Huffington Post Editor-In-Chief Arianna Huffington made a major change in its coverage by reversing its policy of covering Trump in the entertainment section. She added, "So if Trump's words and actions are racist, we'll call them racist. If they're sexist, we'll call them sexist. We won't shrink from the truth or be distracted by the showmanship." BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith told employees that they are permitted to call him a racist, noting "He's out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign...BuzzFeed News's reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts." And, MSNBC's Morning Joe cut Trump off after he tried to filibuster and avoid the reporter's questions. I hope many more reporters and media outlets will join them.
Parents can help challenging the stereotypes and persuasive techniques employed by Trump and others by talking with kids about media and breaking it down together. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Take control of how everyday media messages and technology shape the way your family interacts. Teens can spend up to 9 hours a day consuming entertainment media through television, websites, and social media. Learn strategies for respectfully monitoring what your children see and do through media.
- Talk about the purpose of the message. There are lots of reasons for why people say things, and as an adult, you have learned a thousand times over that people don't always say things because they're true or because they want you to feel good.
- Encourage your kids to ask questions, check the facts, and recognize bias. Who created the message? Are the facts being cited true? What techniques are being used to attract my attention? How might different people understand this message differently? What values are included or omitted in this message?
- Teach your children how to become more decoders of media, not just consumers. Media and technology are often cited as sources of tension at home. But what if instead of battling a digital divide, your family thrived with a digital bond?
Next month, The LAMP will release an updated version of its MediaBreaker video editor, which allows youth to remix and talk back to a variety of media - including political ads and news clips. It's a great way to put these tips into action.