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TV & Movies: Teens


Boy and girl watching TV

Turn your teenager from a couch potato into a film buff by teaching him the language of film and TV programming. Your teen will discover there's no single "correct" way to interpret a story or an image. Instead, what a person gets out of a show or a film comes from who that person is, what he knows about the world, and what he understands about the art form.

With your involvement, your teen will see that living in a visual culture means learning to decode the messages before him. That's much better than merely accepting those images at face value.

6 Ways to Turn Your Teen into an Active Viewer

  1. Talk to your teen about TV's "tricks of th  trade."
    Point out patterns: laugh tracks and live audiences on half-hour sitcoms, themed subplots running through hour-long dramas, unrealistic elements in "reality" shows or a dominant point of view that drives documentaries. Rather than channel-surf during commercials, mute the sound and talk to your teen.
  2. Find out if TV images affect your teen's self image.
    Popular culture can dictate what's cool and what it means to be accepted. Knowing this, talk to your teen about media messages. Start a conversation by asking your teen how she feels (Do you envy that character?), whether the show reflects her life (Do you know anyone who looks or acts like that?) and what she knows (Do you think that's really what happens in a trial?).
  3. Help your teen question what he sees.
    By talking back to the TV when a show doesn't make sense or an ad makes unrealistic claims, your teen will learn not to accept what is portrayed on TV as the truth.
  4. Talk to your teen about the links between content and ads.
    To grasp the economics of programming, get your teen in the habit of spotting product placement. Why do companies use TV shows to market their products? (to get viewers to link a brand with popular actors; to build brand awareness). You might ask about a certain ad: Who do you think is watching this show? What are the marketers trying to sell? How do you react emotionally to that ad?
  5. Exercise remote control.
    When watching a movie at home, go back to certain scenes and pick them apart with your teen. Decide if the scene was important by hashing out questions like these: How did that scene develop the story? Did it set a mood? What did it reveal about the lead character?
  6. Talk about how media coverage shapes our understanding of the world.
    Ask your teen how she knows what she knows about life in other countries. When watching a news report, pose questions about the story's images, "facts," quotes and "experts." Make connections between how a news story is put together, how it makes you and your teen think, and what it makes you both feel. Explain how bias can infect journalism. Urge your teen to find out more rather than believing what she hears from a single source.
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