Common Sense Media is a non-profit, non partisan organization that has been around since 2003. Common Sense caters primarily to three different constituencies: Common Sense Media (parents), Common Sense Media Education (teachers), and Common Sense Action (advocates). Its organizational mission is to “provide education and advocacy to families to promote safe technology and media for children.” While “safe use” can sometimes allude to protectionism rather than empowerment, the Common Sense web site tells otherwise (in both Spanish and English).
We at PLAY think that if there is just one new resource families can add to their media literacy toolkit to commemorate National Media Literacy Week (Oct 21-25, 2019), it should be Common Sense Media. Here are just a few reasons:
So Many Media, So Little Time
Common Sense Media reviews are like the Amazon—both the rainforest and the multinational technology company. Undoubtedly we live in a media ecosystem that is vast and varied and with a human resource team of 130+ Common Sense thrives in the undergrowth. The Common Sense Media web site is thickly populated and data dense. The web site provides rich layers of information in the form of summaries, reviews, and recommendations across films in theatres, DVDs, streaming platforms; apps and games; and books. (Note that the editors freely assume that every parent wants to get their child “hooked on reading” and not hooked on playing video games or television—which is a cultural bias to which most Americans are blind).
Visitors can transnavigate media title, topic, platform, age group or Common Sense rating (which may consider the MPAA and ESRB ratings). Their “Best” lists cover movies, TV, books, apps (free and paid), games, websites, music and platform (i.e., “Best Kids’ TV Shows on Netflix in 2019). Families can also personalize media recommendations to fit specific needs, preferences and values. There are “Parents’ Guides” for Fortnite, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Roblox. You can also obtain an example of a Family Media Agreement to adapt to the home environment.
Age is More Than a Number
Families do not need to scratch their heads at the meaningless “E for Everyone” rating. Common Sense organizes kids into age groups more aligned with stages of child development. Both Common Sense editorial and user reviews reflect an understanding that boundaries are fluid include anecdotal details of why it may be in/appropriate for a child to view something outside of a designated age category. Age is more than a number and a medium is more than its content.
- Preschoolers (2-4)
- Little Kids (5-7)
- Big Kids (8-9)
- Tweens (10-12)
- Teens (13+)
A Case of She Said, He Said
A “full expert review” (“what parents need to know”) is prominently placed on their web site and in some cases accompanied by an excerpted summary within an embedded video. Other materials such as official trailers or promotional video and still photos populate the review pages. Parents and children review the same media products and Common Sense (like Amazon) presents side-by-side comparisons of perspectives. It’s illuminating and humorous to read a parent’s review that is more positive and even more liberally biased than a child’s conservative review of a potentially controversial app or film. Conversely, it is interesting to see a child (and not a parent) identifying an older age group as more appropriate then their own for the media product under review. It problematizes (in a good way) the question, “What does it mean to be age appropriate?“
Diversity of Criteria
The media reviews are scaffolded with a set of criteria that are pertinent to child development (see below). They include expert interpretation of positive messages, positive role models and representations, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs and smoking. If one clicks on the > within each category, a pop-up window displays specific examples from the text (in this case, the film Malificent: Mistress of Evil). Common Sense also provides (expert) answers to the questions, “What’s the Story?” and “Is It Any Good?” It’s the evidence pulled directly from the film (or game or app or book) that gives weight and credibility to the Common Sense reviews. Undoubtedly they are arduously and meticulously curated.
In the example above of Malificent: Mistress of Evil, Common Sense Media suggests in the section Talk To Your Kids About, the questions “What’s the impact of media violence on kids?” “Are there kinds of true love other than romance?” “How does Aurora demonstrate empathy?” (The question they pose “Do you think there should be another sequel, or do you feel this particular story is resolved?” seems like data mining for a third party, so an alternative question might be to ask “Can you come up with an alternative—even better—ending to the film?”).
The parsing of the seven criterion above are invaluable for families that wouldn’t otherwise know what media content on which they are embarking. Especially for families with very young children. And for parents who have no pre-existing knowledge of the vast media universe in which we live. Families can also search for additional media resources that “stand out for Character Strengths.” There are also lists “Shows for Kids While You’re Making Dinner” and “50 Movies to Help You Raise a Kind Kid“
Common Sense Media gives us interconnectivity among media content and forms; and interconnectivity among experts and user reviewers. Like a town square.
Did we mention it is also produced in Spanish?
Project Literacy Among Youth is not affiliated in any way with Common Sense Media.