(NEXSTAR) – Lawmakers’ misunderstanding of a popular social media term went viral earlier this month – providing fodder for comedians online and sending teens scrambling to clean up their finstas before their parents don’t learn of their “fake” Instagram accounts.
The awkward exchange between Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) And Facebook’s chief security officer ironically occurred during a hearing on the potential dangers of social media, highlighting a generational disconnect regarding forms rapidly changing media that children are exposed to every day.
It’s this disconnect, according to Ashley Hodges, LCSW of Wellington Counseling Group, that allows children to go online with âlittle or no skills or strategiesâ to navigate and decipher the information they absorb. Hodges and others, like attorney Maaria Mozaffar, are hopeful that a new media literacy law recently passed in Illinois will help change that reality.
âWe’re now looking at a situation where students aged 3 to 18 are consuming tons of information,â Mozaffar said. “And they’re getting information, not from family, friends, and the typical media, which was true maybe 20, 30, or even 15 or more years ago, right?” Now they get information from what they use the most, namely the phone or the tablet.
Mozaffar drafted the legislation behind the new law, which will require all public high schools in Illinois to have a media education program starting next school year.
âMedia literacy encompasses all the media we consume,â Mozaffar said.
She noted that the definition includes everything from digital news and TV ads to Instagram filters and everything in between.
According to Mozaffar, the program will help students objectively analyze and assess media messages at a time when information is “literally accessible to them in a second.”
âIt’s a new area that a new generation is learning to use,â she said. âAnd without guidance, we have so many different impacts that could happen, which can point them in the wrong direction. So I think they need to have all the tools and resources they can use in order for this to have the most impact for them. “
In her clinical practice with children, Hodges has seen first-hand the negative impact media can have on children who lack the tools and resources they need.
âI think social media can be harmful for children, especially girls,â she said.
Hodges said she continues to see an increase in anxiety, depression, loneliness and even lack of sleep in children who regularly use social media; However, she said social media can also be a positive experience with the right settings and education.
While Illinois is the first state to demand such an education, Mozaffar and other advocates want to see it go further.
“I think lawmakers are starting to recognize that the most important place to change society and the way we consume information is at the school level, because that is where children collect the most information and meet new people, âMozaffar said. So I think it’s going to be fascinating. And I hope people across the country realize how important it is for them to learn media literacy. “
Not all Illinois lawmakers agree with the new program. Representative Adam Niemerg has been quoted by several media outlets as calling it reactionary “anti-trump, anti-conservative” legislation and an attempt by the left “to enter our school systems at a young age and teach them how to use the media. General public”.
Mozaffar said she would not respond to such comments because âI think it politicizes the issue of education and I’m not going to perpetuate the issue of education in a political way. I think our kids deserve better than this.
She encouraged parents who are concerned about the new curriculum to get involved.
âWatch the program,â she said. âBase your concerns and arguments on facts, play a role in shaping the program, talk to faculty, or get information about the person creating the program and say you want a space to contribute. “
Hodges added that parents should educate themselves about what media, especially social media, looks like for a teenager. She encouraged parents to ask questions such as “What do you think?” Or “do you think this is real?” “
âKeep a dialogue open,â she said.
Teens and parents alike need to know that it’s okay to take a media break when needed, Hodges said. She suggested setting up a âno screenâ hour for the whole household. Take the opportunity to reconnect with your family, she said.
To learn more about media literacy, visit medialiteracynow.org.