MEDIA LITERACY 101: V. Each Person Interprets Messages Differently

Subject: Digital Literacy
Grade Level: All
Source: Cable in the Classroom

The creators of a media message, a TV advertisement for example, have a certain meaning they are trying to convey. Two people can watch the same TV show or visit the same Web site and come away with very different impressions of what they have watched or read. Each person seeing that ad will interpret its message differently, based on their own age, culture, life experiences, values, and beliefs.

Deriving meaning from media is a two-way process. As children become content creators, through social networking sites, blogs, and online videos, it’s important for them to think about how other audiences might perceive their messages. What’s funny to a friend might look very different to a prospective employer.

Explore a different perspective

As an adult, you should guide and direct your students or children in interpreting media:

  • Talk with them about the programs, movies, and Web sites they see
  • Ask them to explain the commercial, TV show, or Web site content
  • Ask them what they thought about it.

You'll find out what the child is interpreting or misinterpreting. Then, you can correct misperceptions, relate the situations to real life, and express your own opinions and beliefs.

To illustrate this point, pretend you are a six-year-old child again. Think back to what life was like at that age. Your life experiences may be limited to school, home, and neighborhood. You can't always tell what's real and what isn't…

...Now, watch this 30-second television ad and consider what messages you are getting from it.

Terror in the Night

As a six-year-old, how did you feel? Did you understand the movie's story? What impressions do you now have about camping? About sheriffs? About men with tattoos?

If your child has his own Web site or online profile, ask him what he hoped to accomplish with his choice of images, colors, headings and sounds and if a different audience would understand his intent.

Visit a favorite Web site with your child and ask her what effect the images, colors, headings and sounds have, and whether different elements would have a varying effect.


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