Media Literacy and Online Safety Skills Last a Lifetime

November 12, 2020 | Ana

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Do you believe everything you read or see online? No, of course not. The world is full of all sorts of media messages and not all of them are truthful.  Some types of media entertain, some inform, others sell and there are many that do all three. But have you ever stopped to think about how you learned this?

Two children smiling in front of laptop.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.


We know media literacy is an important life skill. It’s not always clear how we can help kids to develop this skill. Part of this may be because we feel like we don’t have all of the answers. Technology is constantly changing and kids have access to more types of interactive media than ever before. But just because your child can figure out technology, does not mean that they understand all that they see, hear or share while using it. They need you to help them develop media literacy skills just as you helped them learn to walk, read and write.

It can be a bit overwhelming because we may need to work on our own media literacy skills too. The truth is that not many of us stop in between Netflix shows, social media posts, YouTube videos, or television programs to ask questions about the messages we see. It's impossible to know everything about technology and media. But it is important to stop and think about how they shape our thoughts, interests and beliefs.

Just keep in mind media literacy is not about knowing all the answers. It’s about asking questions and lots of them! You are your child's first and best teacher. Learning about media literacy together is a great way to teach them that learning is a lifelong process.

Adult and two children watching television together
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.


Here are some activities you can do as a family to help your child build media literacy skills:  

Have a media scavenger hunt

Can your child find all of the different types of media you have in your home? Try making a list together or gather items such as books, movies, digital devices, flyers, advertisements and more. This gives you and your family an opportunity to reflect on how you use each type of media. You can group them into categories like print or digital media. Ask them questions about who the target audience is for each type of media and what purpose the item serves.


Create media together

Media literacy is not just about questioning media messages, it’s also about how we create media. Try making a stop motion movie, a collage or a puppet show together. You and your child can talk about what story you want to tell and who will be your audience. Be sure to talk about the decisions you make as you create your story. Are there parts that are left out or implied? Could some audiences understand the story in a different way? Can you tell more or less of the story depending on which format you choose? 


Play spot the ad

Advertisements are everywhere. Sometimes they are easy to spot and sometimes they can also be disguised as an article or a program. Play spot the ad as you watch TV, go to the grocery store, look through a magazine, listen to the radio or sort the mail. Talk about why the ad was easy or difficult to spy. What are they trying to sell? Who are they targeting and how are they doing it?


Have an alien encounter

Pretend you are an alien and have your child show you their favourite form of media. Is it a game, an app or a television program? Have them walk you through it and tell you what they like about it. Remember you are an alien and have never seen this form of media before so ask lots of questions. What prior knowledge does your child’s chosen media assume? Does it exclude anyone from using it? What information are they being asked to share? This is a great opportunity to talk about pop-up ads or in-app purchases with your child through fresh eyes. 


Media literacy as a stepping stone to online safety

Person holding cell phone showing social networks icons
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels.


It's important to help children think critically about media when they are young. As children grow up, more and more of their daily lives take place online. Media Literacy skills offer a strong foundation for introducing online safety tips children will need as they enter their teenage years.

Not sure how to talk to your child about social media, privacy or online safety? Check out our series of Raising Confident Kids online workshops to empower parents and caregivers. On Thursday November 19, we'll be hosting a workshop on Helping Kids Thrive Online. You can join us for a live discussion on Crowdcast from 6:30-7:30 p.m. or watch the replay until January 4, 2021.


More Resources

Looking for more resources and activities to build your child’s media literacy and online safety skills?

Check out our Internet Safety Quiz on the TPL Kids website. In this quiz children will explore real life scenarios like what to do if they receive a friend request online or witness cyberbullying. Each quiz question offers practical safety tips to help your child stay safe online.

Browser window of TPL Kids Internet Safety Quiz


Zoe & Molly Online is an interactive series of comics and games for students in Grades 3 and 4. This resource was created by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection as a resource for teachers.

Media Smarts has many online games for kids to introduce concepts like fake news, privacy and online marketing. This Canadian not-for-profit organization (formerly known as Media Awareness Network) created the House Hippo videos you might remember from 1990s. There are many resources for parents and educators including tip sheets, videos and tutorials.



The most important thing that you can do to help your child develop media literacy skills is be their ally. Explore all sorts of media together and talk about what you see. Media literacy isn't just a subject you learn in school but rather a skill that you build over a lifetime. 

What media does your child currently enjoy? Does your family have a favourite TV show you watch together? Let us know in the comments!