Avoiding the rewind routine

Concerned about screen time? Find out how play becomes part of your child's media literacy. 

Learning Stages

By Scott Steinberg


Parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the creator of the The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of popular video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. Scott is hailed as a top voice for today’s high-tech generation by dozens of publications from USA Today to Forbes and NPR. A proud parent and working professional, he claims he'll sleep when they start giving away a free lifetime supply of anxiety medication with each new child.

While no one wants kids to be couch potatoes, staring passively at the TV screen all day, this doesn't mean we have to cut them off from television or movies altogether (as if that were even possible!). It's clear that media is proliferating and becoming more integral to how we work and play. Media literacy is a much smarter strategy.

Producing Culture

In order to help children navigate the pop culture landscape, as parents, we must be informed about the media they are consuming, and we must teach them to be discriminating consumers themselves. Additionally, we should try to teach children to be producers of culture. While that might seem a bit foreign to us—the tasks of "creative" types like writers and artists—producing culture comes naturally to children. They do it every time they pick up their toys. Playing with dolls or building with blocks is about constructing narrative—it's a creative act.

Stay Informed
Be aware of the content of movies or television shows that may potentially appeal to children. This includes the obvious family movies, but also less obvious choices that might appeal to kids and adults. We need to use reviews as tools to gauge whether a movie or program is suitable for kids to watch.

Encourage Active Engagement
Encourage creative activities or critical engagement with the movies or program—the productive side of media literacy. In other words, instead of just setting the DVD on auto-replay, what other ways could your child get a dose of Elmo or her favorite princesses?

Play—Not Just a Button on the Remote

The answer isn't merchandising, so forego all those matching shower curtains and sleeping bags. Your kids can engage a character or story, which is what they're really interested in, more effectively through play. Knowing the right ways to encourage creative play is far more rewarding (and less financially taxing) for parent and child alike.

This is one effect of movies or TV that we can measure and influence. The viewer is the one who ultimately decides what a movie "means." Children play with meaning as they use their imagination to rewrite stories, creating their own scenarios, and combining characters from different works. Think of that as being creatively productive.