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Between childhood and adolescence

Children and young people of this age have taken their first steps on the Internet and already know their way around reasonably well. Almost all of them now have their own cell phone or can use one of their parents’ devices. On the one hand, the interests and activities are as diverse as the children themselves; on the other hand, very similar phenomena can be observed. It is becoming increasingly important to use the media to build a world of their own, even without the guidance and supervision of parents. This includes communicating more and more with friends, increasingly unobserved by parents.

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Interests are further developed online. Children find out about topics of their own choosing, follow celebrities on social media or video platforms, and begin to show themselves off to their peers or even the public via various apps. For some, it is important to play undisturbed alone or with their friends – even online. In the process, they develop their own expertise and skills and live out their creativity.

Children and young people are not yet able to assess very well what it means to put certain data on the Internet, what other risks there are, or how it should be assessed when others misbehave on YouTube and the like. Increasingly, young people are moving away from purely child-friendly media use, going online more often on their own and repeatedly encountering content that can overwhelm them and that they cannot process on their own. In addition to youth media protection, you as parents should still lend a helping hand. Feel free to share your child’s diverse experiences on the web and also support your child’s formation of opinions about them. As parents, you have a particularly important guiding role in this transitional phase, and you should encourage safe use of digital media.

Exploring the Internet together

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net

Especially if your son or daughter is already on the Internet on his or her own from time to time, it is important that you as parents are always available to answer questions and solve problems. If possible, you should surf together with your child as often as possible. This will give you a feel for how competently and safely your daughter or son is navigating the web. Over time, your child should also be given the opportunity now and then to discover a topic for himself on selected pages alone and to make his first experiences without parents. If there is an open, relaxed approach to the Internet right from the start, this will be transferred to your child, who will thus be able to encounter challenges without bias and at the same time develop a healthy skepticism.

Apps for kids

Tutoring on the Net | Copyright: photothek.net

Apps that have been programmed explicitly for children are particularly suitable as an introduction to online worlds: As a small, self-contained program, they offer clear content. Navigating here also works via finger movement or voice input. At the same time, the childlike preference for repetition is practiced. Be sure to establish rules about usage time and frequency early on. Ideally, you should test the app beforehand and possibly play through it. Find out exactly what apps you install for your child. Important aspects here include advertising and possible in-app purchases. You can also use test reports as a guide.

Good children’s apps are characterized by the following features:

  • Content is geared to the age and living environment of the children
  • The app is audiovisual (images, sounds, music, noises)
  • Navigation is simple, intuitive and possibly voice-controlled
  • Texts, images and animations are child-friendly and understandable
  • Symbols and icons used are consistent and meaningful
  • The apps contain age-appropriate interaction options

An overview of recommended apps for children is difficult due to the rapid changes on the web. However, you can find help at the German Youth Institute (DJI), at klicktipps or at SIN – Studio im Netz, among others.

(Co)design media yourself

Young people are more than just consumers of media. They are actively shaping it as you can see on platforms like YouTube or TikTok. Not only do people watch videos here, they often publish their own. Well-known YouTubers and influencers have all started small and built up a million-fold audience over the years.

Fourteen-year-old boy with an old analog video camera.

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net

The topics on which videos are published are very diverse. Many people talk about their own everyday life in so-called vlogs. A lot of videos are about cosmetics and fashion; many make funny videos and others film and document how they play computers. Important topics such as cyberbullying or tolerance are also taken up on YouTube, dealt with in videos and reflected upon. The Ice Bucket Challenge, for example, showed how social issues can be addressed in a playful way on YouTube.

Even if young people don’t produce their own content, they can still be a part of it. By commenting and liking, they can influence what is discussed on the web and what happens in new videos. The Internet with YouTube and Co. is an information space for everything that interests young people. A space for role models, trends and, above all, to connect.

Communication via messenger

Communication that takes place via messengers such as WhatsApp, Signal, Threema or Telegram is a basic need for young people. Trivial things are exchanged here, as well as opinions, organizational matters, videos and photos with peers. But it is also used to settle conflicts and test the effect of one’s own person on others. You don’t post on bulletin boards, but in a more or less personal chat with single or multiple people. People seem to communicate privately via Messenger. However, group chats can also be organized and individual users can be blocked. Often the groups are so large that there is no question of privacy. In addition, photos can be saved on other devices and forwarded unnoticed, for example.

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net

The popularity of messengers is simply due to the widespread use of the service. The apps are often free, and with an Internet flat rate or Wi-Fi access, there are no additional costs. Of course, they also entail risks. If you are concerned about the security of your data or that of your children, just compare the terms and conditions of individual messengers. What happens to the data there? Is the communication encrypted? Are there secure messengers? In the terms of use of many messengers, an age of 13 or even 16 is required for registration. If your child is younger, you must consent to its use.
Through the social web, there are also other numerous ways to participate in the world and stay in touch with others with little effort, such as Instagram and TikTok. Whereby young people do (and can) distinguish between the more public communication via platforms like Instagram and the more or less private exchange. With the smartphone, this happens at any time in any place and, above all, in very different ways.

The smartphone as a constant companion

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net

By the time he or she enters secondary school, at the latest, your child will probably have one, too. The smartphone plays a major role among children and young people. Whether through Messenger, the YouTube app, the music player, the navigation app or Instagram: The smartphone is an important part of their everyday lives. At the same time, it is felt almost like a part of one’s own person. Without a smartphone, many young people do not fill completely.

Apps, functions and accessories can personalize and individualize the smartphone and turn it into a status symbol. Different aspects, such as cell phone cover, wallpaper or make of the cell phone are supposed to show that one is up-to-date or particularly cool. This is not a new phenomenon. In the past, clothing or music served as a means of self-expression and demarcation. A special feature of the smartphone is that very personal experiences are documented and stored. The young people have their smartphone all to themselves. And it makes it possible to store intimate things, whether love messages in WhatsApp or photos for self-expression on Insta.

The smartphone has also given rise to a new form of communication among young people that adults can’t always comprehend. Chatting with friends while checking messages is not uncommon and is not necessarily considered rude. At the same time, the smartphone promotes risks such as cyberbullying and sexting, as offline and offline worlds merge.

Copyright: photothek.de

More and more children of primary school age, at the latest from around 10 years of age, also have their own smartphone. When they enter secondary school, they are thus available to their parents at all times. At the same time, the desire for independence is on the rise. With your own cell phone, you are no longer dependent on mom or dad’s device, but can usually decide for yourself when to communicate with whom or play the mobile game. However, this harbors potential for conflict and the negotiation of rules becomes necessary.

Young people and their communication on the net

Digital – especially mobile – media play a major role in communication. Sharing with each other, sharing yourself and testing everything out is important for teenagers. In communication with each other, i.e. with peers, common experiences, adventures and conflicts are shared and reflected upon. Situations from everyday life, such as the bad grade, stress at home or the common crush are occasions for communication – especially away from the adult world.

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This contributes to the ability to resolve conflicts without parental support, to form one’s own opinion and to defend it. Last but not least, this also serves to actively differentiate the company from other groups. So a new form of independence is also being lived out in digital media.

It may be that your child’s communication sometimes seems cryptic and incomprehensible to you. Do you remember youth language when you were a teenager? Emojis, abbreviations and your own secret words create a protected communication in which teenagers confide in each other. Last but not least, this also serves to actively differentiate the company from other groups.

Young people and their online worlds

Digital media are an important part of young people’s everyday culture. There is hardly any separation between offline and online. Especially through mobile media such as the smartphone, these worlds are merging. In the familiar and newly created free spaces, young people try things out, make new friends, develop and share interests. Communication and friendship in everyday life is not replaced, but expanded.

Copyright: photothek.de

Today, it is easier than ever to publish your own opinions and self-designed content. Whether on fashion blogs, gaming sites or YouTube – young people can try out digital spaces and test out how they come across. You can find like-minded people across spatial and social boundaries. Their use of media is fast-moving and their fascination with certain offerings is not always easy to understand: what is exciting today may be boring tomorrow. Interest also depends on what other peers think is great. In addition to hip apps and certain music, the latest series on Netflix is one of them.

For you as a parent, it is particularly difficult to muster understanding when, for example, depictions of violence, horror and splatter films or soft porn are consumed on the net. Much of the content is not always age-appropriate and difficult for young people to assess in terms of its impact. But they want to test their limits. In their digital spaces, the boundaries can be very diverse. In addition to watching certain movies, this can also be contacting people you don’t know. If, for example, contact with the unknown person suddenly becomes unpleasant or the intimate photo suddenly circulates among friends, this can have serious consequences.

It is a difficult task for you as parents to find the right way here. Protect your children from potential dangers, but also encourage autonomous and creative use of digital media.

Exciting online content for kids

Communicating online, exchanging ideas and being connected are typical features of the Internet. This interactive site is also discovered early by elementary school children. They like to watch videos – especially via YouTube. Music videos, funny videos and animal videos are especially popular. Only a few children of this age also want to post their own videos. However, sharing with friends about the content you’ve seen is very important.

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/photothek.net

Besides watching videos, the most important online activity is researching. Elementary school children like to search for information online a lot. Mostly people are looking for information for school or music info. Special Internet sites for children are also used for this purpose.

Games on the net are also a big topic. Many children spend time playing online games, preferably together with friends.

(Mobile) Media in the Hands of Children

After picture books and TV, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are among the first media that children get to know. After all, they are present in their lives from the beginning because mom, dad, big sister, grandpa and dad’s girlfriend are constantly holding them. The importance of these devices is not lost on the little ones. Plus, they glow so beautifully and make noise. This also fascinates young children. After all, they are quickly turned on and easy to use. You don’t have to be able to read, but can start a small program very quickly via the icons. And then you can easily take such a device with you to the cozy corner or in the car.

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The fine motor skills of young children are not yet fully developed. Hands and fingers are clumsy and hand-eye coordination is just developing. Operating a tablet is much easier for them than using a keyboard and mouse. But before they are about 18 months old, the little ones can not actively do anything with it. However, tablets can already serve as a digital read-aloud book that you read from.
The linking of different senses is promoted within appropriate children’s activities. From the age of about five, for example, children can acquire important motor and mental skills in online games. Especially for small children, there are many offers on the Internet that limit access to content on the Internet and thus usually do not allow unprotected surfing. Make sure the content of such offerings is appropriate for your child’s developmental level and age.

Children’s search engines

Children are fascinated by the Internet and the infinite information. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a page for it. However, adult search engines are often used. Not least due to still insufficient research skills, however, children are confronted there with a confusing abundance of results that they can filter only with difficulty. They may also encounter results that are sometimes unrelated or inappropriate to their search.

To protect children, there are search engines designed specifically for them that allow them to take their first research trips unaccompanied by adults. Search engines for children, such as www.fragfinn.de or www.blinde-kuh.de, differ in essential characteristics from the usual search engines. This is especially true for the design, preparation and handling of problems. Texts, images and videos are pre-screened against specific criteria and then approved. Thus, they are safe and interesting for children at the same time.

These offers are aimed at children from about 6 to 12 years. Starting around fifth grade, children should be gradually introduced to adult search engines.

Wide range of Internet services for children

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Children also want to surf the Internet. Since they have different interests and needs than adults, there are websites for children. It’s very important to give children ways to find content on the web quickly and easily at an early age. These opportunities should be both interesting and age-appropriate. Germany has a remarkable and unique children’s website landscape. The websites are regularly maintained and are tailored to the needs of children. Here, children can find out about world events or their hobbies and research many other topics. You can play games, meet friends, share or produce your own pictures, videos and even web pages. In this way, they get to know the Internet in all its diversity – in an age-appropriate Internet world. As adults enter secondary school, Internet services become more and more interesting. Your child should be introduced to them slowly and learn to use them safely.

You can find good children’s sites at seitenstark.de. You can find out how to recognize a good website for children here.

Mobile media with school children

Copyright: Janine Schmitz/photothek.net

Mobile media such as smartphones and tablets inspire children of all ages. After all, you can do a lot with these (small) devices and always take them with you.

Tablets are not standard equipment in families compared to smartphones. Nevertheless, many have at least one family tablet that is especially popular with younger children – for viewing photos and videos, surfing, playing games or coloring. Smartphones, on the other hand, are everywhere; often each family member has their own. From the age of 10, almost every child has a first cell phone of their own. Then tablet use is no longer so exciting either. From this point on, it’s harder to keep up with what your child is doing with mobile media. The cell phone plays an important role for your child when it comes to becoming more independent.

Tablets are also used in the classroom in some schools, but when they are, they are often not used until secondary school. If smartphones are allowed, they can also be used in the classroom.

What preschoolers need and like

Preschoolers love pictures, sounds and they like to touch things. They also need repetition – this applies to play in the nursery just as much as it does to media use. Repetition gives them security, stability and orientation.

Copyright: Janine Schmitz/photothek.net

The most suitable offerings are therefore those that appeal to all the senses with simple user guidance and lots of sounds and images, while at the same time linking learning elements in a playful way. These can be accessible on the tablet as well as via the family computer. Your first experiences in the online world should be made together with your child. When doing so, avoid cluttered websites and apps. Because they cannot yet read, understand or operate everything, it is difficult for young children to grasp complex game play. If your child is bored or wants to learn something new, you can discover more offers from time to time. But children can look at things again and again and experience them anew. They do not get bored in the process. Tips for good children’s sites can be found at seitenstark.de. You can learn more about suitable apps here. Check out the offerings on your own first before exploring them with your child.

Children want to discover media

3, 6 and 8 years old boys with a laptop computer

Copyright: Ute Grabowsky/ photothek.net

Preschool and elementary school children are curious and inquisitive in discovering their own living environment. This also includes media: What are mom and dad actually doing on the computer for so long? Why is big sister typing away on her cell phone every free minute? Even young children are fascinated by digital media. Above all, they want to do what the big guys do.

Opportunities for children’s media use and first steps on the Internet are many and varied – from picture books to the latest episode of their favorite series on their tablet to game apps. Well-known characters from popular children’s series on the video platform or on television provide an initial access point to the network in terms of content. They appear not only in videos, but also as online games, quizzes or picture stories. Children’s websites focus on interactivity and participation. And the interest is not limited to pastime and entertainment, your child wants to learn and discover!

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