Media Literacy and Awkward Parenting Moments!

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People who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know from the content I share that I am passionate about youth empowerment issues, parenting, and wait for it—Feminism (equality for all genders).

As a professional media consultant I love to work with youth in helping them critically think about media and how to deconstruct the images and marketing that they are bombarded with daily.

Youth are not responsible for the world they were born into. A Hypersexualized, Hypermasculine marketing feeding frenzy on their souls. We complain about youth, criticize them and use cop-out expressions like, “Kids today have no respect,” but how can we expect them to learn self-love and respect if we are not there to support them and show them the way.

Media literacy is important and we can’t assume that children understand the messages that they are absorbing.

The amount of media consumed by youth ages 8-18 grows each year. Among these youth, the average  time spent with all media (TV, music, computers, video games, print and movies) is 7 hours and 38 minutes per day; however, “today’s youth pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those daily 7 ½ hours” (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010, p.2).

This overabundance of information can be difficult for young minds to contextualize in real life situations.

I watched my son experience this confusion last year, and thank God I got over my awkward parental discomfort in addressing the issues at hand by asking some very important questions.

My son was eight years old at the time and I let him play online with a friend he met that was a couple of years older. They would be laughing hysterically as they played Roblox and Minecraft for hours, with my son in Toronto, Canada, and his friend in Sussex, England.

I was always asking him questions about the content and games he was playing and encouraged him to tell me about the conversations he might be having with his friend. I realized there was only a small window with my son to encourage this ongoing conversation, but I was shocked with what I found out was my son’s perception surrounding “adult subject matter.” My son informed me he knew what “Sex” was.

“Really?” I asked, trying to remain calm and not give away the, Holy-crap-my-son-is-too-young-for-this, look on my face.

“So tell me buddy,” trying to keep it light, “What is sex?”

He hesitated, a little embarrassed and responded, “Isn’t sex when a man forces himself on a woman?”

“Holy Shit!” my inner voice screamed out, but my facial expression stayed calm and unfazed by his remark. I vowed to myself that no matter what, I would do my best to not have my son feel shame when it came to talking about sex. I collected myself internally and found a response.

“Where did you hear that, honey?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.

“I heard it on the radio and saw it in the newspaper in the subway, and isn’t that what happened to Rehtaeh?”

Rehtaeh Parsons was a young girl from our home-province, Nova Scotia, who took her own life in April 2013, after she endured constant harassment and bullying after her sexual assault was captured from a phone and distributed throughout her community and school.l.

In 2011, Rehtaeh Parsons attended a party where she consumed enough vodka to not remember most of the evening. She recalls throwing up out of a window. Four boys then raped her; one of the boys allegedly yelled, “take a picture, take a picture.” According to Rehtaeh’s mother, “That picture began to circulate in her school and community three days later.”

The picture prompted a torrent of online bullying as well as verbal abuse at her school. When Rehtaeh confessed the incident to her mother a few days later, they called emergency health services as well the police. After a year of investigations, the police told her it was a case of “he said, she said,” without enough evidence to press charges. They told the family that though she was underage, the photographs were not a criminal issue. (Gawker, 04/09/13)

A horrendous crime and an example of how the justice system continues to fail our youth.

So here I was, face-to-face with my son who was under the impression that sex was rape. I sat him down and talked to him about the birds and the bees. Although I was uncomfortable with having the sex conversation this early in his life, I also couldn’t help but wonder that if I hadn’t asked him, how long would he have gone on thinking that sex and sexual assault were one and the same?

I recently shared this story with a co-worker who went on to tell her boyfriend, the father of three boys. His reaction was common, his children were not exposed to those things. He didn’t feel he had to worry yet about their exposure to misinformed media impacting their malleable minds.

Sure enough, two weeks after he heard my story his son shared a conversation that he and his buddies had during a sleepover and the word “rape” was included. It turned out, strange enough, that he and his friends all thought rape meant making babies.

I love a variety of media and I see it used every day in positive influential ways. I watch Youtubers with my son (and I am one), and I read papers and articles to him that he might find interesting. I watch movies and play X-box with him, but I also turn off content I might find inappropriate and not the right learning tool for him at his age (don’t even get me started on the Grand Theft Auto V argument we constantly have in this house).

I am also not naïve enough to think that the minute I am not looking that he is not sneaking in videos I have asked him not to view, or that when he is old enough he will play those forbidden games at his friends’ houses.

We cannot run from technology and media, but if we learn to help our youth deconstruct the messages through open conversations, by providing safe emotional spaces, and by asking tough, uncomfortable questions, then maybe we can at least help empower their choices and interrupt the impact and violation that can occur. .

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