Critical Media Literacy – Guiding our youth as they navigate their digital worlds


Critical media literacy can be defined as, 

an educational response that expands the notion of literacy to include different forms of mass communication, popular culture, and new technologies. It deepens the potential of literacy education to critically analyze relationships between media and audiences, information and power … it is an opportunity for youth empowerment (Kellner & Share, 2007, p. 60).

Hello Teaching/Parent Community,

My apologies for my lack of writing recently, but you know, start of the school year shenanigans! This time of transition is both exciting and exhausting, and it leaves little time for work to be done outside of the classroom and home as we adjust to our new routines. It is a good time to be gentle with our expectations of ourselves and others and manage our self-care when we can.

With that said, my brain never does stop its musings about educational topics that are near and dear to me, and when I don’t have time to write, I often take to discussion with my colleagues (who am I kidding, I will gab about these topics all of the time!). Recently, I have been thinking about the concept of critical media literacy; how we utilize this teaching concept in our classrooms and how we can disseminate it outside of school. I have been working with the healthcare team at my school on some workshops steeped in critical media literacy as a way to help our young people navigate their online worlds in meaningful and safe ways.

I worry that we aren’t doing critical media literacy enough or properly as an educational system in Ontario. Let me provide some academic research to support this statement. Kellner and Share (2007) posit that North American education systems still function “under a protectionist or anti-media approach, oversimplifying the complex relationships youth have with media and removing the potential for empowerment that critical pedagogy and alternative media production can produce” (p. 61). ‘Empowerment’ is not often a word that comes to mind when we think about our young people and social media. I would like to explore this concept more deeply in front of these workshops; it is one of the pillars of critical media literacy

I think previous generations tend to view social media as a black hole in which teens spiral into and cannot remove themselves. It is where bullying happens. It is where both girls and boys exploit their bodies and it is where our girls develop negative associations with their bodies as they scroll through images of the ‘ideal’ femininity. It is a space where parents and teachers cannot go, and I think for this reason, it scares us. What is happening in their worlds!? We must know, and if we cannot know, it’s obviously dangerous and we must stop it! The bottom line; humans tend to be weary of the unknown, especially when it comes to protecting our young people. 

But, here’s the thing, if we truly want to protect our young people, we must trust them. We must educate them and then we must trust them. Isn’t this the point of both parenting and teaching? We now know that helicopter and bulldozer parenting doesn’t work for our young people when we send them off into the world. Research on resilience and anti-fragility is diffusing to the masses and occupying space in many of the psychology and education conferences I have attended recently. So, I challenge you to shift your thinking about social media and move away from this protectionist position. Critical media literacy is a tool to assist you in doing so.

Critical media literacy relies heavily on students’ already existing understanding of public pedagogies (beliefs about different topics) so students must have knowledge of the apparatuses that control gendered and racialized discourses in the media, for example, so they can deconstruct them in relation to their own personal experiences (Kellner & Share, 2007, p. 62). This is where we can do some good work with our young people; we can help them break down these messages and rebuild them in meaningful ways for each individual student. This can be a challenging exercise for many teachers and parents as it asks them to consider their own constructions of social media and the body. Yes, you must do some internal work before you begin this work with your students/children. We all come to this topic with our own baggage and preconceived notions of power; really, it is our own views on these topics that guide and train our young people on how they should construct their own opinions. 

Critical media literacy education gives students the opportunity to discuss alternative media production and empowers them to create their own messages that can challenge dominant discourses on a whole range of issues. Let’s go back to my rather grim paragraph on the negatives effects of social media. Through talks with trusted adults, students can begin to challenge the bullies through advertising “Bell, Let’s Talk,” and the normalizing of mental health, girls can post pictures where they are happy and thriving with a group of friends as opposed to the bikini shot; not having your parents or teachers in this space will allow you to share in ways that are more authentic, perhaps. You can see the dialogue shift. 

This is really just a start to my thinking more deeply about taking my academic research on this topic and translating it into practice. Mediasmarts is an amazing online resource with lessons geared towards critical media literacy. My next post will share what I have developed and how I will deliver it to our students.

THANK YOU for reading,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s