March is Women’s History Month, a time when our school children learn about the women who have shaped the progress of our nation and our world. These education efforts teach students about the many ways that women have pioneered advances in education, civil rights, science and engineering, sports, business and government. They also send an important message to all children: there is no limit to what you can do.
But as we discuss this message of empowerment with our children, our families also face a barrage of media images that too often send a very different message. It is a challenge to any child – and any parent – to sort through the messages we receive from television, movies and digital media about how women and girls are perceived and valued.
At the State House, I recently had the opportunity to view the film Miss Representation, a documentary about how the media can influence girls’ ability to see themselves as leaders – and be viewed as leaders by others in society. It also explores how this might contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and political leadership, an area where the U.S. lags behind many other nations.
Of course, our attention to the pervasive effects of media must apply beyond the issue of gender portrayal, to topics like violence and bullying, healthy dating relationships, the role of sports and athletes, and many others. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media during a typical day. That’s more than 53 hours a week.
The study also found that media use increases substantially when children reach the “tween” ages of 11-14 and that girls spend more time using social networking sites, listening to music, and reading, while boys spend more time playing video and computer games.
If they are to succeed in our information intensive digital world, our children need tools and resources to help them think critically about what they see in the media. This requires the active participation of us all – as parents, teachers, coaches, community leaders, and government officials. To aid this collaborative effort, I have introduced legislation that would provide comprehensive media literacy education in our schools.
This bill would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop standards and objectives for media literacy for K-12 within the existing curriculum, provide a list of resources to school districts, and ensure that approved media literacy training opportunities are available to teachers.
I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this legislation passed and provide our students with critical analytical skills for our media age.