Children should learn about the media’s influence – particularly the influence of popular music – on our lives as soon as they start school to minimise the potentially harmful impact it can have on their development, says University of South Australia education researcher Dr Lesley-Anne Ey.
In a recent study, Dr Ey and her co-authors found that media literacy – which involves learning about the role of media in society and gaining the essential skills of inquiry and self-expression – is virtually missing from the primary school curriculum both in Australia and the United States.
When it is taught, the topic is only offered in upper primary, despite the fact children are avid consumers of media such as pop music from far a younger age.
Dr Ey says that in an era where children are being influenced by media almost from birth, it is critical that media literacy is taught to avoid negative effects on their personal development.
“Media is more prevalent in our lives than ever before – we are surrounded by it and the ease of access to it is unprecedented, regardless of age, and much of the media consumed through the internet is unable to be controlled,” Dr Ey says.
“It has a significant influence on children’s and young people’s attitudes and behaviours, shaping their understanding about gender ideals and identity development.
“Negative outcomes from consumption of sexualised media includes self-objectification and female sexualisation, permissive sexual attitudes and risky sexual behaviours, as well as acceptance of sexual and gendered violence
“Despite this, we haven’t done enough to change how we educate and support our children to understand the influence of media on their own identities.
“From the age of five, children are far less interested in children’s bands like The Wiggles and far more likely to listen to pop music which often contains sexually explicit lyrics and images.
“The latest research suggests 57 per cent of pop songs contain some form of sexual reference so it is vital that we teach our kids how to navigate this type of content safely.”
The paper Popular Music Media Literacy: Recommendations for the Education Curriculum, published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, advocates that media literacy be formally included in the school curriculum but Dr Ey says it needs to go beyond that.
“Media literacy needs to be taught as soon as children enter formal education,” Dr Ey says.
“This can be done in an age-appropriate way – explaining the concept of stage personas, teaching children the difference between reality and fantasy, and engaging them to think critically about what they are listening to or watching.
“The Australian curriculum is effective is teaching children how to create and analyse digital media but lessons on how the media influences personal development start far too late.
Analysing media, for example, doesn’t start appearing in the curriculum until Year 5 or 6.
“Even though media literacy is in the curriculum, it’s left up to teachers’ discretion on when and how it is taught. Unlike traditional subjects such as science, mathematics, reading and writing, media literacy is not tested. In an already packed curriculum where teachers are under pressure to cover a huge amount, it can easily fall through the cracks.”
Dr Ey says education about media needs to go beyond the classroom.
“Parents too, need to be educated on how media influences their’s and their children’s lives as well, so that they can have the right conversations with their children,” she says.
“Media codes and regulations should be informed by child development experts and be adapted to take into account how media is consumed by children.
“Media literacy has a place on the public agenda – it’s education that we all need.”