Importance of media literacy education for our children

The theme of this year’s Media Literacy Week, “What’s Being Sold: Helping Kids Make Sense of Marketing Messages” is one I personally feel strongly about. After all, I’ve spent my entire career working in all aspects of marketing and communications. At the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), I’m responsible for the department filled with people who are experts in advertising and communications, social media and public relations. My days are spent thinking about how to get more people – very likely you, if you’re reading this blog – to register more .CA domain names and to understand and engage on the issues that CIRA supports.

In short, I get marketing and communications

I’m also a parent of three children ages 17 and 21. Yes, 17 and 21. I’m the lucky father of twins

I know that we all want to keep our kids safe and protect them from whatever we deem inappropriate material. I also know how daunting that can be in the ‘always on’ world of social media, non-stop marketing messages and seemingly unlimited media the Internet offers.

It goes without saying that you can’t always protect them from everything. Once you’ve dropped your child off for their first day of school, you realize that you can’t always be there to guide them and help them with their choices. And, if you’ve reached the stage in your life where you’ve sent them off to university, you know you have to have faith in the fact that you’ve equipped them with the tools they need to safely navigate the world. 

The same applies with the online world. That’s why we at CIRA believe strongly in supporting Media Literacy Week and the work of MediaSmarts.  As a member of the MediaSmarts Board of Directors I am keenly interested in media literacy and the opportunities and challenges associated with it.

Our kids’ media world is not like the one we grew up with. Long gone are the days where the phone was a primary mode of communication. Further, the days of fast-forwarding through commercials or trusting regulators are ensuring our kids won’t see ‘inappropriate’ content are long over, in large part due to the Internet.

And while the Internet may bring with it new threats and dangers, we also have to remember it really is the late 20th century’s equivalent to the steam engine. It is the driver of a new, knowledge-based economy, and has radically altered the ways in which we communicate with each other.

Rather than thinking about how we can protect our kids from the bad things on the Internet, we need to ensure our children are equipped with the tools they need to not only safely navigate the Internet, but to benefit from the good it offers. That requires us to think in a very different way than we are used to. It’s no longer only about protecting our kids; it’s about empowerment and lifelong education so that they can take full advantage of all the new media landscape offers. So like we teach our children about values like fairness, honesty and integrity we need to provide them with similar values for the online world. Interestingly many of these values are the same for both worlds.

Talk to your kids. Advocate for media literacy programming in their school. Tweet using the hashtag #MLW2013. Support MediaSmarts.

Oh, and if you’re in the market for a new domain name, I know a place.

David Fowler is the Director of Marketing and Communications at CIRA. He sits on the Board of Directors for MediaSmarts.