The media, in all of its forms, is omnipresent in our lives. While its influence is not all good or all bad, it is impossible to escape, and children are especially sensitive to it. This is due to the fact that they are still under emotional and cognitive development, which causes them to have a higher risk of believing the messages they receive. ‘‘They don’t have the same life experiences and skills to see what lies behind,’’ says Thierry Plante, media education specialist at Media Smarts, a not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy.

While media literacy has to do with traditional media, such as newspapers and television, digital literacy is about the Internet and communication devices. Seeing how prevalent Internet-connected smart phones and tablets have become, it is important for children to grow up with knowledge of how these devices affect them.

Media literacy is an important topic to tackle, but teachers don’t necessarily have the time or the resources to talk about it in class. In Quebec, there is a section about media education as part of the general training area that also includes health and well-being, yet no particular course is dedicated to it. As for digital literacy, teachers are left to their own initiative, but in today’s media landscape, it is important that children learn how to be literate in both.

The problem is that it is not part of the teacher training and teachers generally have no support or material to teach it. ‘‘It’s seen as this general domain of education and it’s not a topic to teach, like in other provinces,’’ says Plante. ‘‘Teachers have to try to find opportunities to use media as part of the favour of the lesson,’’ he adds. ‘‘It makes it very challenging for teachers to figure it out.’’

Some teachers can feel uncomfortable or inhibited talking about technology because they are not always as familiar with it as their younger counterparts. With these issues standing in the way, how can teachers talk about media literacy in their regular classes?

Plante says that the principles of literacy are all rooted in common sense and critical thinking, which are skills that children haven’t fully developed.

He also recommends doing “cool viewing” as teachers or as parents; it consists in being present in children’s media lives, being interested in what they like, looking for opportunities to get children to think, questioning and going deeper in their media consumption. Plante says that it is fundamental for parents to accompany children and to be present as guides.

From a practical standpoint, developing critical thinking means making less mistakes online. ‘‘It’s all about developing the reflexes of thinking before doing something mean, cruel or giving away personal information,’’ Plante explains. In terms of media influence, being able to make better and more informed choices later in life is one of the big benefits of being media literate. ‘‘Whenever you consume media, it’s to think critically about what you are doing and seeing,’’ says Plante.

He suggests visiting Media Smarts’ website because, in large part, the organization was created for giving resources to teachers and parents across Canada. On the organization’s website, there is a plethora of lesson plans and tip sheets organized by school year and curriculum expectations.

Every year, Media Smarts, in partnership with Canadian Teacher’s Federation (CTF), organizes the Media Literacy Week, typically taking place in the Fall period. Plante encourages teachers, organizations and people who want to participate to get in touch with Media Smarts.

There is no doubt that even with the challenges facing teachers, media and digital literacy can still be taught ―one critical thought at a time.