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By Rosemary Smith

When our two youngest sons were high school freshmen, they were pallbearers for two of their 15-year-old friends. We subsequently spent another two years seeking mental healthcare for our oldest son who was expressing suicidology, due to his excessive and obsessive use of media.  We fortunately stumbled upon a Cleveland Clinic psychologist who told us “This. Is. Temporary.  With cognitive behavior therapy – CBT – and in our son’s case, some medicine, we will get him through adolescence – while his prefrontal cortex was still forming – and he will be alright.”  Media Literacy is like CBT for the masses.

I’m Rosemary Smith.  I manage the non-profit Getting Better Foundation (GBF).  GBF is dedicated to building trust through the support of media literacy, and produced the award-winning documentary, “Trust Me”. The film brings awareness to peoples’ need for media literacy to foster resilience, lessen polarization, and preserve democracy through real stories and expert interviews. The film is politically neutral…  Media and Information Literacy is politically neutral.  “The goal is not telling people WHAT to think, but to THINK!” says Michelle Ciulla-Lipkin in “Trust Me”.[1]  Media Literacy empowers students – and people in general – with the skills to think critically and for themselves… it teaches them how to consume and evaluate information, to ask critical questions, avoid online manipulation, and to navigate within our complex and ever-changing media landscape. Media Lit additionally instructs people how to construct accurate media – themselves becoming citizen journalists. Both the National Institute of Health (NIH)[2] and U.S. Department of Homeland Security calls this becoming “Upstanders” instead of “Bystanders”[3].  To be “response-able” instead of reactive members of society.  It means using media for solutions, not manipulation, conflict, and war.  As we transition to becoming citizen journalists with the advent of social media, we must adhere to the standards set by credible, fact-checking journalists or risk further polarization of our nation, and our world.

Media Literacy Now, a leading research organization dedicated to helping states establish media literacy and civics standards, defines media literacy as the ability to:

  • Decode media messages
  • Assess the influence of those messages on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and
  • Create media thoughtfully and conscientiously.[4]

Once learned, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, media literacy practices are hard to forget.

In addition to violence, domestic terrorism, and global conflicts stemming from mis and dis-information, there are too many young people suffering from anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidology. PEW Research charts adolescent mental health disorder increases alongside the advent of the internet and smart devices. They both rise like hockey sticks in tandem.[5] Chronic overconsumption of media since the advent of the internet stimulates addiction to dopamine – like how our brains’ respond to conventional drugs and alcohol.

“Search engine recommendations feed on this deficit, increasing the likelihood people will encounter more radical and extreme forms of anything – violence, sexuality, other kinds of media content”[6] says Renee Hobbs, Media Education Lab @ University of Rhode Island.

“Modern society has ‘drugified’ our brains with quantity of, access to, the potency, and novelty of media.”[7]  Says Dr. Anna Lembke, Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Clinic, and author of Dopamine Nation. Quantity has expanded due to an explosion of online content.  Access is now readily available via devices that fit the palm of our hand. Potency increases with our tolerance to more graphic content.  The novelty of new media since the advent of the printing press, then radio, television, and now the internet fosters excitement, anger, fear, and lust, captivating users to draw them in further. One of our Getting Better Foundation advisory board members[8] likens adolescents on smart devices to handing over the keys to a new car without teaching them the rules of the road.

Just like humans learned to consume media after the advent of the printing press, then radio, television and now the internet and AI… to give kids their best shot at rising to their potential, we need to teach them how to communicate.  Media Literacy education – integrated into every subject – and, for every student – in rural as well as urban schools – is one of the best solutions to the deep dilemmas facing our nation.  Media literacy standards implemented in legislation, added to social media platforms eliminating “bots” by more stringent account verification standards, plus curriculum frameworks educators can add to as they gain skills equals sound civic pedagogy for K-12 and collegiate students. Adults and seniors, some of our most at risk populations, can use free tools like News Literacy Project’s Seven Standards of Quality Education[9] and Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart[10] to become more media literate.  More resources like these are available at under our resources tab.

The United States’ Bill of Rights, featuring the nation’s prized freedom of expression, makes it difficult, if not unconstitutional, to censor what can be said online.  And do we really want to place censorship power in the hands of a for-profit social media platform?  While there are big brains and big agencies working on digital intelligence solutions, in the meantime, the answer is media literacy education, and we may have to empower ourselves with media literacy until then.

These days, trust is our highest currency.  The level of trust we win or lose is proportionate to the quality of our communication.  Coincidentally, when people are empowered with media literacy, they learn to trust one another more.[11]  Connection happens.  It’s not easy to hurt one another when we know another person. Differences are set aside to work together on solving the bigger problems our world is facing.  When people learn to communicate clearly and credibly – they become “Response-abled”.  They are armed with advantage – across borders, genders, age, nationality, and wealth disparities.  They rise to become the best version of themselves, inspiring others to follow toward peaceful resolution and collaboration.  Communication is about creating clarity where there’s confusion.  It’s about creating relevance when people feel disconnected.  Most importantly, it’s about inspiring people to achieve things they never thought possible.  That’s hope.  That’s what media literacy does.

[1] Michelle Ciulla-Lipkin, Executive Director – National Association of Media Literacy Education as quoted in “Trust Me” Documentary, 2020;

[2] National Institute for Health: “Becoming an Upstander” white paper (2020):

[3] U.S. Department of Homeland Security “Media Literacy and Critical Thinking Online” report (2022):

[4] Media Literacy Now:  “What is Media Literacy?”  Media Literacy Skill Toolbox (2023):

[5] PEW Research “Teens, Social Media and Technology” (2023) –

[6] “Trust Me” Documentary – Renee Hobbs, expert interview (2020):

[7] Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and author of Dopamine Nation (2021)

[8] Getting Better Foundation Advisory Board:

[9] News Literacy Project “7 Standards of Quality Journalism”:

[10] Ad Fontes Media – Media Bias Chart (2023):

[11] Center for Media Literacy longitudinal education study: “The Effectiveness of Media Literacy for Reducing Violent Behaviors” – (CDC and UCLA funded study, 2010, 2012, 2013)