Trust, Mistrust, and Preschool Children: Promoting Media Literacy
Trust, Mistrust and Advertising | The Media Education Lab Blog.
In this interesting article on the Media Education Lab blog, Renee Hobbs discusses some key ideas about teaching media literacy to the preschool aged child. One of the issues that she brings forward as an essential tool that we can begin with is that of trust-vs-mistrust.
Young children are already exploring the concept of trust. It’s a very important idea as we relate to the world around us. We’re getting all kinds of information coming from many different sources. How do we know which are true, which are real, in other words: which to trust? As Renee Hobbs notes in her post, “children begin to learn about distrust around age three, but cannot apply that sense of distrust until around age five.” And even for adults, mistrust is difficult to apply when it comes to advertisements and persuasive messages. Who among us hasn’t bought that product thinking it would do x,y, or z for us even while knowing cognitively that it probably wouldn’t? If persuasive advertising didn’t work, the diet pill industry would fail, and yet….it doesn’t. But what’s important to remember is that all of us evaluate information we receive based on our perceptions of the informant. Research has shown that preschool children do this as well. They tend to evaluate the trustworthiness of informants based on their perception of that informant’s accuracy in providing information. If they see an informant as accurate, then they are more likely to want to learn from that informant in the future.
So how can parents and other caring adults work to help children begin to apply their growing understanding of trust-vs-mistrust to media? One important idea is to help preschool children to begin to see media and marketing as an informant who they can mistrust, building on the idea of accuracy and inaccuracy.
- Frame advertisements as made by people who want you to do something specific: buy their product or watch their show.
- Talk about the times when a friend or sibling has tried to get them to do something by telling them something that wasn’t true. What did that person do or say? Have they ever done that to someone? How did they do it? The idea is to let the child begin to see media and marketing in the same way as they might someone who they know wants them to do something so that they can engage their mistrust or critical abilities.
- Play a game of watching an advertisement and guessing what they want you to do. Are they trying to get you to buy a certain product, eat at a certain restaurant, or go to a certain movie? This guessing game helps your child begin to see the persuasive element in these modes of information.
- Point out untruths that are used to sell things. For example, if a cereal is being advertised by showing kids doing stunts on skateboards, ask your child, “Does eating that cereal make you a great skateboarder?” Depending on their age, they may so yes or no. Go on to talk with them about it in more detail. No, eating that cereal won’t make you a great skateboarder. The company wants you to think their cereal is fun and will give you energy to do active things. This is a fun game that helps your child learn to distinguish the product from the lifestyle connections that the ads are trying to promote.
- Use social stories, books, or other devices to share stories about the purpose of advertising with your child. Your goal is to allow them to begin to see advertisements and media in general as an untrustworthy informant. That’s not to demonize these sources of information, but to allow your child to clearly see them as persuasive.
- Here’s an example of a social story that I might use with a young child to help them begin to think of advertisements as persuasive. Social Story media literacy