Guest Lecture: Claudia Haines, Media Mentorship

So last night we had a guest lecture on media mentorship that I want to make sure to spend some time on here in this blog, to keep a record of what was said. It was a terrific and useful lecture that has implications for lots of us in many different jobs.

In short, media mentorship encompasses understanding what people do with technology and what technology is available for people’s use. Media mentorship is bringing together those concepts by helping children, families, adults, and others learn and understand how to use technology in a way that promotes their learning, development, and relationship.

I find with my preschool families that they don’t want to be told about digital media use with their kids. We are the first generation of parents to have these tools so immediately available in front of us and our kids – we are the first smartphone adopters and our kids the first generation of smartphone kids. I, like many in my preschool cohort, weary desperately of hearing that smartphones are basically going to rot our kids’ brains and turn them into little zombies.

It doesn’t keep our parents from posting endless anti-smartphone memes on facebook… from their smartphones… but that is a story for another time.


The point that I’m making is that we have to figure out how to talk to families about media in a way that actually fits the existing conversation. If we don’t engage the culture, we lose the culture. And I say that full well knowing that I have in this very blog talked about managing screen time with little kids.

This is actually why the concept of media mentorship – which is new to me – is so resonant with what I’m seeing in my daily work. Screen time guidelines like the ones I linked above are part of the conversation, but they are only part of the conversation.

Here’s more of the conversation.

There’s a huge difference between using digital media as a babysitter and using digital media as a tool for learning in a purposeful way – and that difference matters.

Understanding the needs of the child and the needs of the family is part of understanding media use in families. It’s okay to individualize our recommendations a bit – what works for one family may not work for another.

There’s also a huge difference between passive consumption of media and active participation in a media experience. Most people I know understand and embrace the value of vegging out with a Netflix video and a cup of hot cocoa when your brain is just on overload and what you really want is passive consumption of media. That’s okay. And I would venture that that’s okay for kids too – sometimes, when we choose it as a conscious option and not as the default position. Even more, we can help parents select apps for kids that are fun and entertaining but also contain an element of using their cognitive abilities. We can find digital tools that not only entertain but provide opportunities for creativity, problem-solving, learning developmental or academic skills, developing strategy or coordination or any other developmental characteristic. And something parents need to know is how to balance out the passive by reinforcing the active – by making conscious choices with their families.

We can model co-consumption of digital media for families who might want to know what that looks like. My 8-year-old loves cat videos and something that makes her endlessly happy is to sit on the couch with me and watch cat videos. Is a cat video developmentally enriching? No. Is the experience of watching a cat video together developmentally enriching? YES. Also enriching is the experience of her creating a story in a story creator app and sharing it with me, or her emailing a piece of digital artwork she’s proud of to a relative who lives far away, or her connecting with a friend over a game they play together. Digital media does not need to be isolating – it can actually be used to enrich relationships when we know how to make it do that.

Something I often think about is – you never, ever know what a family has going on at home and why they make the choices they do. Touchpoints would remind us yet again to assume that parents are doing the best they can by their children and that their children’s development and growth is important to parents. So I am realizing more and more that if my media recommendation doesn’t take into account the needs of the single mom who just needs her kid to be entertained for twenty minutes while she gets dinner on the table just as well as it takes into account the needs of the stay-at-home mom with a well developed home literacy environment, then I’ve missed out on an opportunity to connect with a segment of my patron base.

Just like everything else we do, we have to take into account the diverse needs of the people who are receiving information from us. But we have to do that from a position of assuming the best of people, and I think that’s one of the places that the conversation around digital media has previously fallen flat, and subsequently one of the places that the idea of media mentorship is especially strong. I’m excited to learn more about it and am actually sorry that I only learned about it now – I will continue learning about media mentorship after this semester is over for sure!


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