Screen Time or Media Literacy?

media literacy

What parent hasn’t agonized about screens at one time or another?

I don’t want to discuss screen time here, though I’ve thought about and discusssed it plenty. In the past year, we’ve shifted from very limited and controlled iPad time; to almost complete freedom, inspired by unschooling ideas; to my reasserting my role as guide, encouraging my kids to think about how they want to spend their days.

But I’ve started to think that media literacy is a more important topic than screen time. Read more

My kids’ favorite iPad activity is watching YouTube videos. Recently, I’ve been asking my kids a simple question about videos they’ve watched. “What is the video trying to convince you?” (Common Sense Media has lots more ideas about conversation-starters.)

Daphne (7) enjoys DIY videos about making slime, crafts, and baking. She’s observed that the videos are trying to convince her to try a particular craft, to believe that she can make something instead of buying it, and to watch more videos.

Netta (5) likes toy unboxing and stories acted out by Barbies, Calico Critters, and LOL Dolls. She also enjoys animal documentaries and Doc McStuffins. She’s noticed that the videos are convincing her to care for animals, to play, and to buy toys. (She’s also said the videos are convincing her to be helpful, because Ken helps Barbie with things she can’t do… which led to a good discussion about boys’ and girls’ abilities.)

Netta’s video-watching has contributed to an ever-growing wish list of toys. She does have several ever-obliging grandparents, as well as a weekly allowance. Recently, we’ve been watching PBS Loop Scoops videos from the Story of Stuff project, notably “Happiness” and “Garbage.” Since Netta has asked to watch them many times, especially “Happiness,” I assume she is, in some way, taking in the message that “one thing you love can bring you more happiness than lots of stuff.”

We’ve also been reading Arthur’s TV Trouble, a funny story about getting tricked by false advertising. Again, I brought the book home from the library, but my kids initiated reading it over and over. It’s been a springboard to talk about ways that the videos they watch don’t align with real life. Yesterday, Netta bought a Hatchimal with her allowance at Target, and Daphne referenced Arthur in noting a few differences between the process of opening it in videos compared to in real life .

Screens are a challenging topic (for adults as well as kids!) and require a dynamic, flexible approach. For the moment, I feel fairly comfortable that my kids are not sheltered from the wilds of YouTube, but are starting to think critically about what they’re watching.

I’d welcome other perspectives, as well as suggestions of conversation topics and resources!

2 thoughts on “Screen Time or Media Literacy?”

  1. Phoebe, there is a robust discussion about this in the forum over at The Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Please feel free to check those out at Many of us find it helpful to get other perspectives, as well as discuss some of our concerns and Aha-moments. It may prove helpful to you, too.

    1. Thanks so much, Akilah, I’ll look up that conversation. When I began learning about unschooling, the resources I came upon were all adamant that children should have complete freedom with electronic devices and our role as parents is to embrace whatever brings them joy. I’ve been interested to discover that most “unschoolers” I’m meeting in person don’t take that approach. This post is an attempt to explain where I am in figuring out what works for our family, though I don’t know how well I expressed it.

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