Be Switched On

Media awareness for families

As individuals and as a society, we are influenced by the media: the demands for our constant attention by radio, tv, websites, social media, advertising and printed media can be overwhelming, or, conversely, switch off our attention altogether. Media shapes our attitudes, opinions and our experiences.

During their formative years children are at their most impressionable: what impact is the wallpaper of media surrounding everyday life having on your child?

Being media aware helps you, and your family, get the most positive results out of media. Media is a useful too.  Having media awareness helps you examine your relationship with media, assess its impact on your life, and helps you make decisions about how you and your family engage in media.

In this way you can help encourage your children to use media as a valuable tool. Through media we can explore the world around us. Media helps give perspective, we understand the lives of others and appreciate their viewpoints. We can gain new insight on issues. The internet helps us maintain, and even form, friendships and find companionship: children, as will all the family, will need their parents help in learning to navigate this world and make the best possible use of media.

However without media awareness we are in danger of allowing ourselves and others to be exploited, coerced, over-influenced or deceived through the media with potential harmful or negative consequences. Becoming a media aware family helps children relate to the media – but not accept it as a dominant force.

As a parent you can help your child become media aware:

  • Supervise your child’s media consumption in an age appropriate way
  • Take an interest in the media they find most interesting
  • Share positive media experiences and model good habits in your own media consumption
  • Encourage them as they get older to take more responsibility for their own media use

Most of us can remember bad news we read or saw as a child. Aberfan, child-kidnappings, school shooting, 9/11,. Be prepared before it happens so you can help steer your child through an understanding.

There’s reality – and then there’s TV and advertising!

The media can often blur the lines between real life and the life that it portrays.  Advertising can be very powerful and can make a person feel that they need the product or service it offers – or worse, dissatisfied with their own life. A child’s sense of self-worth can be adversely affected by advertising and high level brands (see our Bye Buy Childhood research). Images can also change expectations of what constitutes beauty and young people are especially vulnerable to these.

Help raise your child’s awareness of the possible impact of advertising by looking at adverts together:

  • Is the advertising aimed at men, women or children?
  • Is it aimed at young or older people?
  • Does it make you feel you need the product or service?
  • Will it change any aspect of your life if you buy it?
  • What will happen if you don’t buy it?
  • What (if any) are the values that are reflected in the advert?

Many, many parents express their concerns to us about the content of TV programmes – especially soaps.  Soaps can be a good medium in which social issues can be addressed: domestic violence, child abuse, drug use, teenage pregnancy, family breakup, blended family life (positive and negative), and other issues have all featured in soap scripts.  Sometimes these programmes can stimulate good conversations with your child about issues and how they feel they have been handled. It is important to find ways to help children and young people make perceptive judgements about the things they see in the media.

If you do have concerns that some issues have been handled in too adult a way before the Watershed designed to protect children, then you should express your concerns to the regulators,  or through Parent Port. Regulators have committed to listening more to the voice of parents and now regularly report to government on parental concerns.

With multi-channel TV available via broadband and digital services it has become much harder to protect your child from inappropriate content.  Some adult channels need very little age-verification to access, and music channels may include age-inappropriate material. Ensure you set a pin number in order to maintain an awareness of what your child is watching.

Online safety

Your children will be far more likely to access their entertainment, information, and communications online than previous generations.  Like all things it is a question not of protecting them, as teaching them to learn appropriate use at an appropriate ages. We have two useful articles on managing children online: Keeping Your Child Safe Online and Ensuring Core Parenting Skills Online and Offline. Online safety is a bit like outdoor safety –  as you feel safer letting your child play safe unsupervised in certain areas, but not others, or you feel they are old enough to travel on public transport and go out without you, so you should gradually decrease supervision and build a relationship of trust with your child’s online use.


No media could be as bad as too much media. It is important to find – and help your child find – the right balance.  Try to ensure your child has a variety of interests to engage in, such as sports, drama, or music clubs.