Whether they’re scrolling through Instagram, listening to the radio, or watching a favorite TV show, girls are exposed to countless media messages each day. Many of these messages are specifically aimed at women and girls, targeting insecurities and designed to influence our ideas of beauty, fun, and success. Media messages, particularly when directed at still-developing brains, also play a massive role in shaping ideas of what is normal, acceptable or unacceptable, desirable, and important. These messages are often not balanced or healthy for girls to internalize, making media literacy a crucial skill to have as they navigate an increasingly digital world. So how do you help foster media literacy in your Girl Scouts? Let’s explore.
Monitor Media Use and Exposure
Though your first instinct might be to shelter your girls from media messages, it’s important to allow girls to consume, create, and reflect on media in age-appropriate ways to practice and hone their media literacy skills. You can help guide your girls by paying attention to the websites and social media sites they spend time on and by doing your research on how advertising and data collection works on that those sites. Encourage them to follow only real people they know (as opposed to brands or “influencers”). Have girls sign and reference the Internet Safety Pledge, and refer to the Safety Activity Check Points for computer and online use (pg. 21).
Breaks are also an important part of healthy media use—schedule plenty of “unplugged time” (Especially when spending time with friends!). Model these behaviors yourself and head outside together for truly media-free time.
Help Her Identify Advertisements
Long gone are the days of stuck-in-your-head branded advertising jingles. Today’s most successful ads are more subtle—think product placements in popular shows and celebrities posting about how much they love their new facial cleanser. Ads are also increasingly targeted, making it even more difficult to decipher (and resist) the messages. And, when those messages are served on the same platform as a photo of your best friend’s dog and your favorite singer’s new hairstyle, it can be even harder to determine what messages were shared organically—and which are expensive vies for your money and brand loyalty. From time to time, go on social media platforms together with your girls and point out the ads that pop up in their newsfeed. The FTC requires that sponsored content be identified. Look for #sponsored, #ad, or “Paid Partnership” designation on social media posts.
Talk About It
Your girls have probably already noticed a lot of themes in media messages—they might even be more of a media expert than you are! However, girls might need some help unpacking all these messages—that’s where you come in. Build media literacy skills by talking about it. Ask questions, address stereotypes, and call out problematic content or messages.
Ask questions like:
- What do you notice about that ad?
- Whose perspective might be missing from this movie?
- Do you think this image, story, character, or message represents you?
Movies, television, and ads often rely on over-simplifications and well-known tropes for humor or to connect with audiences. These portrayals can result in the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes about race, gender, abilities, or other identities. Point out these stereotypes when you see them and encourage your girls to question what’s being shown on screen. Ask, who’s telling this story? Whose voice is left out or being excluded?
While it’s easier to hope your girls didn’t notice a problematic scene in a movie or ad, chances are they’ve absorbed the message, but may not have the context to process it yet. Voice your opinion about what you’re seeing. Like, “I don’t agree with the way this movie is portraying African American girls.” Or, “The audience is laughing at this scene, but it’s actually making fun of people with mental illnesses.”
Be a Change Influencer
Pay attention to stand-out brands that promote positive messages and support them when it’s financially feasible. Try not to support media that profits off of the insecurity of women and girls—don’t buy brands that rely on stereotypes as a marketing strategy, and tune out shows that send harmful messages. By “voting” with your dollars and time, you send a message to advertisers about what “works” in advertising and you send a message to girls about what you find acceptable.
As we advocate for more balanced and representative media messages, we can also introduce girls to counter-messages that show them a wider picture than what they see through media. Read a book together that counters stereotypes or highlights a great example of a positive media message. Cadettes can delve into the MEdia Journey and reshape negative media messages. Senior Girl Scouts can work on Truth Seeker badge to figure out what’s true in the media and online.
Our media culture is becoming increasingly saturated with messages—some good and some bad. We as adults aren’t immune to this influence either, so you might find yourself learning alongside your girls (And, that’s okay!). Use these steps as a jumping off point for deeper discussions about the role of media in your Girl Scouts’ lives, and seek out additional resources to develop and learn as the ever-changing media landscape continues to evolve.
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.