This month is a time to celebrate the fathers in our lives, whether ours biologically, our children’s or our chosen ones. Sometimes Dads get a bit left out of parenting guides, but there is a large body of evidence that Dads matter when it comes to the development of their kids’ self-image. While Moms are the ones who set up safety and protection, Dads are the ones who encourage exploration and pushing the boundaries, providing a little excitement and safety at the same time. Because Dads are excellent at helping kids explore, they’re also ideally positioned to talk to their kids about the risks and rewards of that kind of exploration.
One thing that we see a lot more in the summer is a big increase in kids’ consumption of media, whether over an iPod, the laptop, tablet, TV or elsewhere. Parents are often busy in the summer and so the kids have a lot of time to watch different programs, play games and hang out at friends’ houses, where the media may or may not be as controlled as parents might like. Media literacy is something that both parents and kids need to develop in order to process all of the visual information that crosses our paths on a daily and weekly basis and activities to build media literacy can be good fun for you and your family in the summer months where you may have more time to talk about what your kids are seeing on TV and the Internet.
Right now you might be wondering why an image consultant is writing about media literacy – what does media have to do with image development? We are visual creatures and everything we see teaches us something about how we should view ourselves and others. It’s a bit scary to read the studies on how the media affects our social and emotional development and realize that even though we may understand on an intellectual level that the airbrushed photos we see in the magazines aren’t real, they still give us a feeling of being imperfect and unworthy. The media drastically underrepresents women, people of colour and shows a small percentage of the population in their programming. It also sends dangerous messages about what it means to be a man or a woman in today’s society, such as “women should be concerned more about how they look than what they do” or “men should be strong, tough and exercise violence if they are confronted”. All of these things play into our self-image and our behaviour based on these beliefs.
Early in your child’s development is a great time to talk about what they’re seeing in the media; as they start to see fashion and lifestyle magazines or read stories about celebrities or watch MTV, here are some questions to get them critically thinking about what they see on their programs or in their magazines:
- Did you notice that the women and men in this program are wearing different clothing?
- Do you think that people look like that in real life?
- What do you think this commercial is trying to say?
- Does this magazine encourage people to be themselves, or does it say everyone should look or be a certain way?
- Have you noticed that most of the people in this program are (insert sex, race, age or body type here)? What do you think that says about reality?
As a fun activity, encourage your kids to be media detectives, to find ratios of who is represented and how they are represented. You can also play games online that are designed to help kids see when they’re being advertised to, preyed upon or shown things that don’t reflect reality.
Check out http://mediasmarts.ca/ for more fun things to do that will help your kids stay safe, aware and building healthy self-images this summer.
Dads matter too!