Empowerment and Protection at the World Summit on Media for Children and Youth

I was honored to be able to make one of the four opening addresses at the World Summit on Media for Children and Youth on June 14, 2010 in the lovely city of Karlstad, Sweden. Per Lundren, the Director of the World Summit has been planning this amazing conference for a couple of years -- and I  am so delighted to be participating in this groundbreaking event! In my talk, I noted the power of a simple metaphor for newcomers to the field. As they participate in the conference, they will need to keep in mind the coin, with its two sides.

Advocates for children and media bring forward the goal of "protection" as we aim to reduce the potentially harmful effects of mass media on children and young people, including issues related to materialism and hyperconsumption, gender and racial stereotypes, body image, media violence, attentional issues and multitasking, problems in determining the credibility of messages, cyberbullying, pornography, and online social responsibility. It's one side of the coin.

Media producers and media literacy educators bring the goal of "empowerment" as we aim to help kids learn from the skillful blend of entertainment and information that is available through more and more diverse channels. Children and youth are empowered by easy access to digital technologies which are increasingly transparent, open-source, and easy to use. With these tools, they can be authors of media messages that can reach large audiences and potentially change the world. They are empowered when they can go "behind the scenes," developing critical thinking skills about the constructed nature of media messages. It's another side of the coin.

When you look carefully at one side of a coin, you can't look at the back side at the same time. This blindness is manifest in some of the "great debates" in our field, where we get annoyed when others don't see the same side of the coin that we're looking at. Today, media literacy education aims to address both protection and empowerment, maximizing the powerful benefits of the empowerment potential of mass media, popular culture and digital media, while minimizing the potentially destructive and inhumane components through critical analysis, discussion and learning.

Thank goodness that the World Summit addresses both sides of the empowerment-protection coin! This conference brings together the full range of perspectives on the complex and multi-facted role of children, media and youth. I am looking forward to the more than 200 presentations from people in 40 countries and over 1100 delegates to see more how they make sense of the empowerment-protection dynamic in the context of particular cultures and lived experiences. Stay tuned for more updates-- and let the conference begin!