From the time children are first propped up in front of the television, they become media consumers. Today's children experience the media in more quantities, and assimilate information at a faster rate, than children from previous generations. This is why children should start learning about media's impact and effects as early as possible.
Many parents believe children will learn about the media along with reading and math when they enter school. Although this may seem to make sense to many parents, this notion is a mistake for two reasons.
First, children are rarely taught how to analyze and interpret messages in the media at school, and they probably won't be exposed to formal analysis techniques until they reach college. Since analyzing the media is not a tangible subject with well defined outcomes, most American schools don't bother to teach media literacy.
Second, by the time children reach the age to enter school (whether pre-school or kindergarten), they have already become a part of the media culture. By the time children enter grade school, they can already identify the yellow and red symbols that form the logo for a restaurant chain, and they are ready to trust the messages taught to them by purple dinosaurs.
For parents, teaching children about the media is as easy as sitting with your child when he or she watches television. When something interesting happens on the cartoon they love so much, ask them why that happened. Why did one character hit the other? Was it merited? Why does the male or female character get treated a certain way? What does that say about how different people are treated in society?
By teaching children to ask questions about the shows (and commercials!) they watch on television, they can learn from a very young age how to become media consumers.