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How to make your child’s smartphone safer

Many children get their own smartphone during their primary school years. With it, they can do different things and have access to the Internet. In addition to many great opportunities, however, it also exposes children to risks. It is particularly important that you talk to your child about possible dangers and make safety settings on the smartphone together.

Privacy

Without your child realizing it, he or she is leaving data trails by using a messenger and other apps, as well as by surfing the web. Explain to your child the various smartphone functions and how to set them sensibly: WLAN, Bluetooth and location should remain switched off by default and only be activated when absolutely necessary. For example, GPS is necessary if your child is looking for directions to a specific location using a map app. Check the app permissions in the settings together with your child. For example, you can avoid apps accessing the camera without reason or sharing data with other devices and networks. Educate your child about online scams, such as spam emails or phishing. Additional security is provided by virus scanner apps that can protect against unwanted viruses and dangers such as data theft, subscription traps or fake offers.

Password protection

It is important to use codes and passwords to ensure secure use of the device and apps. Your child’s cell phone should only be used after entering a code (PIN, swipe code, etc.) to prevent strangers from accessing personal data. Set up secure password protection with your child. This also applies to registration with social media services and apps. Secure passwords consist of at least twelve characters and contain special characters and numbers in addition to letters. Depending on the device, your child’s fingerprint can also be used to unlock the device (e.g. Touch ID on iOS). Tips for creating secure passwords are available – e.g. at Handysektor. For younger children, it is recommended that at least one parent also knows the screen lock combination and password.

Parental control settings on Android and iOS

Security and parental control settings can be made on every smartphone in the settings. Detailed information on this can be found, among other things, in the article on technical youth media protection.

On Android, you can block the installation of apps in the Play Store or set a password for installation or in-app purchases. To do this, activate the parental control settings. You can choose which apps your child can install without a password.

iOS devices offer even more options in their own device settings. Under Screen Time you have the option to set restrictions and assign a separate code for them. You can then, for example, allow or block the use of certain apps and restrict in-app purchases with a password. Movies, music, apps and TV shows with a higher age rating can also be blocked automatically. iOS can automatically filter and hide web content in Safari and apps.

Additional apps are also recommended:

  • JusProg is a state-approved youth protection program that is free of charge, data-saving and ad-free. The software filters Internet addresses and blocks non-age-appropriate websites. The individual settings allow you to adapt the level of protection to the age of your child.
  • For Android devices, there is also Salfeld, which is available for a fee and focuses on time limits and filters as well as the connection of parent and child devices.
  • With the Kids Place app, you can, for example, set a time limit for screen time, only allow the use of certain apps or block unsuitable websites.
  • The Google Family Link app also offers some ways to regulate your child’s cell phone use.

Further tips for safe smartphone use

To avoid cost traps, a tariff with a limited data volume can be useful. Make sure you also make certain settings for your child’s privacy and safety on social media apps and use Instagram safely, for example. Here you can specifically regulate the visibility of your child’s profile and the basic contact options. Some platforms offer a safer alternative mode for minors – e.g. the accompanied mode on TikTok.

We also recommend installing the fragFINN app. This children’s search engine offers a protected surfing area with tested websites. This way you can ensure that your child can only access age-appropriate and safe content, both for school research and for leisure activities.

For more information on safe smartphone settings, it’s worth visiting medien-kindersicher.de. Here you will find helpful, technical protection solutions for all your child’s devices, services and apps explained step by step.

Also remember to carry out regular software updates on your child’s smartphone to close security gaps and minimize the risk of viruses, for example

Accompaniment by the parents

Smartphones come with some features to make chatting, surfing the web and using apps safer for your child. However, these settings on the device or parental control apps are no substitute for parental supervision. Your child should always understand why certain websites or apps should be blocked or why GPS tracking should remain deactivated. Also, always base your control and safety on your child’s age and development. Especially with teens, don’t intrude too much on your child’s privacy. However, always try to stay in conversation with your child and be there as a point of contact for questions or uncertainties.

Youth under pressure – beauty ideals on the net

Toned bodies on YouTube fitness channels, flawless beauty influencers on Instagram or perfectly staged selfies in WhatsApp chats– social media conveys a certain image of beauty that is often far removed from reality. Such ideals can put enormous pressure on children and young people and have a negative impact on their self-esteem. How can parents help their children develop a healthy approach to beauty images online?

Images of beauty through the ages

Pale skin in the Middle Ages, curvy bodies in the Baroque era, short hair in the 1920s, thin models in the 1990s – what is considered beautiful is subject to constant change and varies according to time and culture. Throughout history, women in particular have been strongly valued by their appearance. Today’s ideal of beauty is strongly influenced by gender stereotypes and social media trends.

Children and young people in the orientation phase

“Do I look beautiful?”. With the onset of puberty at the latest, children and adolescents are increasingly concerned with their appearance and identity. This time is often characterized by uncertainty and comparisons. Young people also look to the media for guidance. They keep a close eye on how people present themselves online. Influencers become important role models that they want to emulate. Many social media stars present themselves as particularly approachable on their profiles and encourage contact with their target group. The strong relationship with their idols can be an orientation aid in the development of their own body and beauty image, but can also lead to insecurity and pressure. This is because a lot of content shows highly distorted images of beauty.

Insta vs. real life – beauty on the web

Big eyes, full lips, white teeth, flawless skin – on platforms like Instagram and TikTok are dominated by one-sided images of beauty that are perfected with the use of filters and image editing, including the use of AI avatars. Added to this are the mechanisms of social media services, in which algorithms preferentially select images with naked skin and display content according to the characteristics and preferences of users. Influencers show more appearance than reality in order to earn money with clicks and product placements. Anyone who does not conform to the current ideal of beauty receives negative feedback and even hate comments. This increases the pressure on young users to meet unrealistic beauty standards. According to a study conducted by the Austrian education platform safer-internet.at in early 2024, beauty ideals on the internet put both girls and boys under a lot of pressure. More than half of the young people surveyed want to look beautiful, stylish and slim online. If children and young people are constantly comparing themselves and frequently use filters, this can have an impact on their self-perception. Pumping until you drop, starving yourself to the point of anorexia – some content even shows beauty ideals that are harmful to health, which can be dangerous if imitated.

Fortunately, there are also counter-movements online such as curvy models, body positivity and hashtags like #formorerealityoninstagram. They help to make visible and celebrate a diversity of bodies and identities. Such authentic content encourages users to take a healthier and more realistic view of beauty and their bodies.

How can parents deal with this?

Show an interest in your child’s media use and keep in touch with your child about their favorite influencers and content. Analyze together which editing steps are behind many images and videos and explain to him that this is mostly about marketing. Make it clear to your child that their social media feed is not an accurate reflection of reality. Encourage your child to weed out profiles that trigger bad feelings. Give your child access to the good side of the internet and show them (children’s) media that portray diverse world views and gender images. Comedy profiles such as Celeste Barber or formats for children and young people such as this video on beauty filters by TeamTimster on KIKA help to question unrealistic ideals of beauty.

Emphasize the diversity of bodies and images of beauty and encourage your child to be positive about their own body. Praise your child’s inner values, such as personality and interests, to strengthen their self-esteem. If you are unsure, your child is suffering from digital stress or an eating disorder, seek help, for example in the form of (digital) counseling services.

JusProg – the digital youth protection program

Many children surf the Internet independently from a young age. If you as a parent sit next to it, you get to see what websites and content your child sees. However, older children in particular – from secondary school onwards, for example – should also be allowed to use the Internet independently. Unfortunately, they may also come across content that is unsuitable or disturbing for them. Offers such as the filter program JusProg are designed to help better protect children and young people online.

In a nutshell:

  • state-approved, digital youth protection program
  • free of charge and without registration
  • can be installed on different devices
  • privacy-friendly and ad-free
  • Individual restrictions for different ages

What can it do?

The software filters web addresses and blocks non-age-appropriate sites on the Internet. JusProg runs in the background while you are surfing: If a website is listed in the system as not age-appropriate, it is blocked – a corresponding message then appears. JusProg bases its assessment of the pages on the age of the children, which the parents specify in advance. Unknown web addresses are automatically blocked for children aged 0 to 12. It’s a little different for children over the age of 12: For them, all pages that are not noted in the system are automatically unlocked. This makes the surfing space with JusProg very large for 12-year-olds and up.

JusProg can be installed on most iOS and Android devices. In addition to the listed web addresses, other pages can be manually blocked or unblocked. Multiple user profiles can be created on one device so that parents and children can surf on one computer and the level of protection is individually adapted to the age of the family member. For example, one child sees content for under-12s, while the older sibling can visit websites for ages 16 and up. The program was approved by the FSM’s expert commission and rated “good” by Stiftung Warentest.

What does the provider think?

JusProg ‘s system is based on negative (blocklist) and positive (passlist) lists on which various websites are noted. Of course, this does not offer one hundred percent security, as the Internet is very large and growing very quickly – non-German websites and content on social media channels in particular are difficult to track. Accordingly, problems have already been identified, such as a tendency towards overblocking, i.e. blocking too many sites rather than too few. JusProg promises to always check sites editorially in order to prevent overblocking or underblocking. Nevertheless, it makes sense for parents to use the option of individualization if certain pages are incorrectly classified from their point of view.

In addition, JusProg offers a reporting function on its website. Sites that are on the wrong list from the parents’ point of view can be reported here. According to the provider, these are then editorially reviewed and their assessment adjusted if necessary.

JusProg would like to point out that approved sites have only been classified as suitable for children and not harmful to development. Parents must assess for themselves or research other recommendations to determine if the content is appropriate for their child. You can find more information about the service and its functions on the JusProg parent page .

What should parents pay attention to?

JusProg is a good offer and the only state-approved youth protection program in Germany that meets all requirements. It can support media education and youth protection online and is particularly useful for younger children. From the age of 12, the surfing area with JusProg is very large, so the protection is lower. Websites like Google , Facebook , X and Instagram are difficult for the system to filter and must be set manually. The sites themselves often offer security settings that can be easily activated. In this article, you will learn how to make safety settings on your child’s smartphone and apps.

As a parent, you should be aware that software cannot replace personal supervision of your child’s media use. Talk openly with your child about their media behavior and agree on rules for media use in the family. If you have supervised your child’s first steps online and explained to them what they should look out for, they will later be able to navigate online safely on their own and know how to deal with online dangers. Open, interested communication can also enable your child to turn to you or other trusted persons if they have problems. If you decide to use JusProg, do not give your child the feeling that you do not trust them. Explain to your child why JusProg blocks certain sites and decide together when your child is ready for more open Internet access.

Media education for siblings

In many families with siblings, there are arguments about media use: the younger ones feel unfairly treated if they are allowed less than the older ones. What some people find exciting, others find boring. Conversely, some media offerings are too much for younger children. The older ones have the feeling that they constantly have to be considerate of their younger siblings. How can parents master the balancing act between the needs of siblings and encourage their children to use media competently?

Making media rules fair

Whether an only child or a sibling – rules on media use in the family give children structure and security for their everyday life with media. The needs and developmental stages of each child should be taken into account. For example, it can make sense to give older siblings more freedom when it comes to media use, while younger children are subject to stricter limits. For example, older children are allowed to take certain devices into their own room, while younger children should only use media in the shared living areas. The times of use must match the age of the children. Younger people should spend less time in front of a screen than older people. Define the rules together and make sure that they are fair and understandable for everyone. For example, a media usage contract that you draw up individually for each child can help. Everyone in the family should adhere to basic media rules such as “no media at the dinner table”.

Accompanying sibling conflicts

“Give me my tablet back now!”, “That’s for babies, I want to listen to something exciting!”, “Why do I have to turn it off when she can still watch?”. Do sentences like this sound familiar? If the age gap is large, different rules apply for each child. This can easily lead to arguments between siblings, whether over access to certain devices or the choice of content. Make the rules clear to your children and help them to put themselves in their sibling’s shoes. For example: “Your big sister wasn’t allowed to watch videos for more than an hour when she was at primary school “. Make sure you recognize conflicts in good time and support them well. This strengthens the relationship between the siblings and they learn to negotiate, compromise and resolve conflicts more and more independently.

Creating shared media experiences

Watching movies or playing games together is fun and creates a bond. Parents should support their children in choosing suitable media content for shared media use. Shared media rituals such as watching a science program on Sunday or listening to music in the car are fun and strengthen family cohesion. Siblings often process media content together and act out scenes from series or immerse themselves in the world of their favorite characters in role-playing games. Siblings can learn a lot from each other, especially when they are creative with media together and design radio plays, stop-motion films or photo collages themselves.

Tips on media use by siblings

  • Avoid excessive demands: Choose age-appropriate media, observe the age ratings and use the youngest child as a guide when using media together.
  • Create safe spaces: Make sure that younger children have limited access to media. Make it clear to the older children that they are jointly responsible and must not give the younger ones unauthorized access.
  • Make agreements: Make sure that the media rules are adhered to in the family. Take the different needs and preferences of your children seriously. Establish fairness and decide together, for example, which child is allowed to decide which media content and when.
  • Find alternatives: one child watches on the TV, the other on the tablet – this can be a solution for different preferences and levels of development. If the younger child’s media time is already over while the older child is still allowed to use media, offer your young child an alternative, media-free playtime.
  • Promote media literacy: Be aware of your role model function by setting a healthy example for your own media use. Have regular open discussions in the family about the advantages and disadvantages of media. In this way, you can help your children to deal with media in a critical and reflective way in line with their age and promote their media skills.

Instagram

Instagram is one of the most popular apps among young people. Experiences are shared as stories, influencersshowwhat’s hot at the moment, users find out about a news feed or are simply entertained.

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In a nutshell:

  • social network that can be used free of charge after registration via the app
  • Publish and view photos, short videos(reels), live streams and so-called stories
  • Minimum age: 13 years
  • Caution: contains a lot of advertising, children and young people can be confronted with unsuitable content,
  • Provider: Instagram is like Facebook a service of the large US internet company Meta

What is Instagram?

Instagram, or Insta for short, is more than just a picture platform. Above your own feed (accessible in the app via the house icon), you will find the latest stories and live streams from users you follow. These disappear again after 24 hours, but can also be saved by the person who posted the story on their own account as a so-called highlight. The feed also displays the newly posted photos and videos of the subscribed channels and people.

Users can find a wide variety of content on Insta: Posts by stars and starlets, about brands and products, current challenges and even personal profiles of friends. You can respond with likes and comments.

You can create and edit your own posts with filters, emojis, fonts, etc. directly in the app. In captions, your own content – i.e. photos and videos – can be assigned to topics with a hashtag. Under Instagram Reels (accessible below the feed via the video icon) you can find short videos in TikTok style.

What particularly fascinates children and young people about Instagram?

The popularity of Instagram lies, among other things, in its focus on photos and videos. Various and easy-to-use tools help to get the best out of your own image. It is particularly appealing for young people to present themselves in the best light and test their effect on others. The app also makes it quick and easy to document and share the best moments with friends or family.

Children and young people are constantly finding new content about their idols on Instagram. They can follow what they are doing virtually around the clock, comment on pictures, like them, save them and forward them to other people. Insta is a great way to while away the time waiting for the bus or to keep an eye on what your crush from the next class is doing in his free time.

Influencers, stars and people with a creator account can create broadcast channels. With the help of an invitation link, users can join and invite other people. Children and young people find out even more about the (public) lives of their stars in the broadcast channels and receive news before people outside this channel.

At the end of 2023, Meta also launched the app in Germany Threads app in Germany. This is (closely) linked to Instagram.

What is problematic about the offer?

The joint privacy policy of Facebook and Instagram, which all users agree to when registering, allows the sharing of user data with other services of the parent company Meta and with third parties. The app enables so-called crossposting. This means that a photo can also be posted on Facebook can be shared. If you have a Facebook account, you should check the settings carefully when publishing posts.

Instagram can determine the location of users via the posts they make. Privately set accounts prevent this. In addition, access to the location can be set both in the app and in the app permissions on your own smartphone and tablet. Then Instagram cannot see the location of public accounts either. However, a location can be added to each posted image manually afterwards.

Content on Instagram is subject to payment if children and young people not only follow an account, but also subscribe to it. The monthly price is set by the creators themselves and the subscription can usually be canceled on a monthly basis. Subscribers have access to exclusive content such as pictures, reels and stories. If you would like to subscribe to an account, you will find a “Subscribe” button next to “Follow”/”Followed” and “Messages” on the profile. A single click on this button does not yet lead to a subscription, but must first be confirmed with further clicks.

Certain content on Instagram can be problematic for young people: Inappropriate content such as erotic images, dangerous challenges and disinformation, but also advertising. Influencer business models play a special role here, which young people do not always recognize.

Instagram harbors various communication risks through functions such as chats and comments. For example, contact from strangers, hate speech or online bullying can occur.

What does the provider think?

The official minimum age for using Instagram is 13, but there is no effective age control so far. Until your child is 18 years old, you must consent to its use. There are extensive usage and setting options. If your child is under the age of 13, they can use Instagram if you manage the account. This must be included in the profile description. Accounts of children and young people under the age of 18 are automatically set to private after creation. However, this can be changed in the settings afterwards and the profile can be set to public. At Handysektor you can read a short version of the terms of use and download a flyer with the most important safety information about Instagram for young people.

Since June 2022, there has been “parental supervision”, which allows parents to link their account to that of their child. We present all the setting options in this article. You can find out how Instagram itself wants to make the app safer for young people directly on the Instagram website.

What should parents pay attention to?

Together with your child, decide at what age and according to what rules he or she is allowed to use Instagram. Make various settings together so that your child can useInstagram as safely as possible. Not all photos have to be shared with everyone or even just with friends via the internet!

Talk to your child about communication risks on Instagram, from online bullying to cybergrooming. Show your child how they can block or report other users and explain to them when these functions are useful – for example, if someone insults your child in the comments. Your child should also not simply accept subscription requests from strangers and be sparing with their own data, such as their location.

Educate your child about risks such as harmful content, hate speech, disinformation and political opinion making. Talk to your child about the critical behavior of influencers and keep talking to them about one-sided role models and clichés. Stay interested and check in regularly to see who your child is following on Instagram and who is following them. It is important that your child knows that they can always talk to you if they have an unpleasant experience on the platform.

Age-appropriate media for my child

The overwhelming range of films, series, apps and other media presents parents with the challenge of getting an overview in order to select the right content for their children. After all, the selection should not only be age-appropriate, but also entertaining and, ideally, educational. We have put together a few suggestions on where you can find age-appropriate media for your child.

Age-appropriate media – what does that mean?

The choice of media should always be based on your child’s stage of development. Media offerings are tailored to different age groups, and it is important that you as parents pay attention to this. Age recommendations and descriptions of the content can provide helpful information. However, you know your child best, so you can use this as the best basis for determining whether the offer might suit your child.

Verified media content

In descriptions of media offerings – whether apps, films or games – there are sometimes different age specifications. A distinction must be made between recommendations, general terms and conditions and age ratings. Specifications and approvals usually have a legal background. For example, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) stipulates that certain apps, such as WhatsApp and TikTok may only be used from the age of 13.

The description in the app stores often contains a different age indication – namely that the app has been approved by the youth media protection authorities. The age ratings issued by self-regulatory bodies such as the FSK or USK rate media according to statutory youth protection criteria. In each case, it is examined whether media content could be dangerous for the development and health of children and adolescents. For example, through the depiction of violence or pornography. Or whether children can be exposed to contact risks through the use of a service. It is not checked whether a plot in a series and characters are understood at a certain age. This means that a Disney movie that is released from the age of “0” is by no means suitable for babies. It just doesn’t pose a risk to them. Access to media for children is to be regulated by means of age labels and technical protection measures. But this only works if you as parents also pay attention.

When it comes to selecting content, age recommendations made by (media) educational institutions, for example, will help you. We look to see whether the content corresponds to the lifeworld of the respective age group and whether it is understandable and appealing.

Suitable media offerings and guidance for parents

The media landscape for children of nursery and primary school age is huge; older children and young people often switch to adult offerings because there are fewer offerings tailored to them.

Here you can find good media offers and information:

  • TV, streaming, YouTube, cinema: The FLIMMO parents’ guide offers educational recommendations by age for films, series and shows from media libraries, streaming services, YouTube and TV channels
  • Children’s search engines: Via fragFINN or Helles Köpfchen, children only surf on tested and child-friendly websites.
  • Websites: A large collection of child-friendly websites is listed and presented on seitenstark.de.
  • Apps: We have put together a selection of “Good apps for children” and “Apps for toddlers
  • Children’s radio and podcasts: We have put together a selection for you “There’s something for your ears“.
  • News: We have put together a selection of “News for children and young people“.
  • Games: The NRW games guide provides detailed profiles of computer games with age recommendations.
  • Online television for 14 to 25-year-olds: funk’s diverse content appeals primarily to older young people.

Tips for your own evaluation of offers

The selection and examination of media offerings requires time and attention. However, by making conscious decisions and communicating openly, you can ensure that your child uses positive and developmentally relevant media content.

  • Content review: Look at the content and consider whether it fits in with your child’s world and understanding.
  • Interaction options: Images, sounds, music and animations should be age-appropriate and appealing.
  • Simple navigation: The service should be easy to use, ideally voice-controlled for younger children and with few symbols and functions.
  • Advertising and in-app purchases: Make sure there is no advertising and preferably an offer without in-app purchases.
  • Parental settings: Familiarize yourself with the setting options for a safe environment and, if necessary, make use of offers from the technical youth media protection service.
  • Feedback from others: Talk to other parents and check whether the offer comes from trustworthy developers or educational institutions.
  • Test run: Look at or test your selection in advance – without your child.

Individual support and communication

Do not rely solely on recommendations, as every child develops differently. Actively accompany your child in their media consumption right from the start in order to understand how they react to certain content.

What should I do if my child comes across porn online unintentionally?

Whether in class chats, on social media or via a search engine – many children and young people come across pornography while surfing, whether intentionally or not. According to a study conducted by the NRW Media Authority in 2023, the average age of first contact is 13, which is nothing unusual.

However, according to the JIM study by the Media Education Research Association Southwest 2023, one in four of the 12-19-year-olds surveyed came into contact with pornography unintentionally. When children and young people are unintentionally exposed to pornographic photos or videos, it can be overwhelming and stressful for them. It becomes particularly critical when it comes to so-called “hard pornography”.

Simple and hardcore pornography – what is it?

In the case of pornographic content, a distinction is made between simple and hardcore pornography:

  • Simple pornography shows sexual acts by adults, for example as photos, videos, audios or comics. Simple pornography is easily accessible on the internet, for example via special websites, but also via chats in messengers and on social media. Use is permitted for adults aged 18 and over. Providing minors with access to simple pornography is prohibited in Germany. Internet portals in Germany must ensure that age verification takes place.
  • Hard pornography shows violence, sexual acts with animals, sexual poses or sexual abuse of children and young people. The use and possession of hardcore pornography is absolutely forbidden in Germany and can lead to imprisonment. Nevertheless, this content is distributed on the internet, for example via websites, comment functions on social media or in chats.

You can find out more about the legal provisions on pornography on the Internet here at klicksafe.

What should I do if my child comes across simple pornography unintentionally?

Accompany your child as they take their first steps on the Internet and explain to them that they may come across content that they find unpleasant. If your child accidentally comes into contact with simple pornography, be there for them as a contact person. Especially with younger children, it is important not to leave them alone with such experiences. They are often unable to properly categorize what they see because it is outside their own sphere of experience. Provide age-appropriate information if your child asks questions about love and sexuality. If you are unsure, seek support, for example from the parents’ helpline of the Nummer gegen Kummer.

What should I do if my child comes across hardcore pornography online?

If your child shows you prohibited content of hard pornography on the Internet, for example on a website or social media, proceed as follows:

What should I do if hardcore pornography ends up in my child’s chat unintentionally?

The possession of depictions of abuse is a punishable offense; young people aged 14 and over are liable to prosecution in Germany. If your child is sent a photo or video via chat that is suspected of showing abuse of children and young people, you should act immediately:

  • Stay calm.
  • Do not take screenshots.
  • Do not save the contents.
  • Do not forward the content to other persons.
  • Secure the device, take it to the police and report it to the police.
  • Delete the content from the device and report the content to the service.
  • If you or your child are unsure or emotionally stressed, get help from digital counseling services.

Discuss these points with your child. The Internet Complaints Office has summarized further information on how to deal with misrepresentations on the Internet in this PDF document.

How can I protect my child?

Keep in touch with your child about their media use and prepare them for the fact that they may be confronted with problematic content or communication risks online. Establish media rules in the family that everyone adheres to. For example, not responding to contact from strangers or not clicking on links that strangers share in chat messages or emails. For younger children in particular, use technical measures to protect minors from harmful media, such as filter programs for surfing or children’s accounts for apps. Make settings such as deactivating the automatic media download on WhatsApp so that your child does not accidentally save prohibited material. Explain to your child what is allowed and what is not allowed when it comes to pornography. Make it clear to your child when forwarding pornographic content makes them liable to prosecution. In this article, you can read more tips on how you can help your child deal with pornography online and how you can protect them from content that is harmful to minors with the help of technical youth media protection.

Teddy and doll listen in – Smart Toys in the nursery

Teddy bears and dolls have always been popular playmates for children. In the meantime, they have undergone a technological revolution and have also become so-called smart toys. These intelligent toys can actively interact with children, entertain themselves or even learn. We explain what exactly is behind smart toys in children’s rooms.

This is what the smart toys can do

Smart toys are toys with technological enhancements that respond to commands and offer interactive functions. Interaction can take place via sensors, cameras or microphones that enable the toy to detect its surroundings. Artificial intelligence is also often used. There are non-networked smart toys that work offline and networked versions that use an internet or Bluetooth connection and are often controlled via an app. In some cases, they may also contain GPS, which makes it possible to track location data. Some intelligent toys can adapt to children’s needs and learning progress.

Smart toys for children

Various toys can be grouped under the collective term smart toys, including books with an accompanying app, teddy bears with voice output and, in some cases, a recording function, and even programmable robots:

The Dash robot is an educational robot for children aged 6 to 11. It can dance, move around the nursery, react to clapping or voices and even play the xylophone. It is controlled via various apps and does not require a permanent internet connection.

Miko 3 is an AI-controlled robot for 5 to 12-year-olds that offers playful learning, dance parties and educational activities. It has a microphone, loudspeaker, camera and Wi-Fi, and interacts with the children via AI. An app for parents makes it possible to monitor screen time and video calls.

The toy manufacturer Curio offers AI-controlled soft toys for three to twelve-year-olds that interact with children via an AI voice. Children can ask questions, wish for music and the soft toy tells stories or provides explanations for natural phenomena. The calls are forwarded to the AI and stored temporarily. Parents can view the conversations. These plush toys are not available in Germany or are “only” sold in the USA.

Are smart toys useful or dangerous?

Data protection is one of the key concerns, as smart toys are often networked via WLAN and can collect and store personal information. There have already been several security incidents in the past in which hackers have gained access to collected data. Neighbors can also easily connect to some toys via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This allows strangers to communicate with your child, ask them questions or even threaten them, for example through a text that a puppet reads out after you have typed it in, or through voice messages. My friend Cayla was banned in Germany for this reason.

It is particularly problematic that some smart toys record conversations and store this data on external servers without clear information about usage. This information can fall into the wrong hands and violate children’s privacy. In Germany, radio-controlled toys suitable for secretly recording images or sound are prohibited, as in the case of the Cayla doll. Constant control and supervision by a toy on the part of the parents also goes beyond the duty of supervision. Sharing such secret recordings via social networks such as WhatsApp & Co. without involving the child also violates the child’s personal rights.

Parents have a responsibility

Make sure you are well informed before buying a smart toy. Research the manufacturer’s website and independent consumer test reports. Pay particular attention to the data protection regulations, whether data is forwarded or processed within the toy.

Keep the entry of your child’s personal data to a minimum. And always switch the toy off when your child is not playing with it. Deactivate all connections such as WLAN, Bluetooth and any microphones or cameras if they are not absolutely necessary for the toy to function.

Find out from the Federal Network Agency, which regularly inspects objects that can be used for hidden spying. Keep an eye on your responsibilities. Ultimately, your parental role remains irreplaceable, and a teddy bear, however intelligent it may be, can never take the place of parents or real friends.

Netflix – good streaming for families?

Netflix is one of the most popular streaming portals among families. We explain what to look out for if your child wants to watch movies or series there.

In brief

  • streaming platform of the US company Netflix, Inc.
  • Available in Germany since December 2014
  • Flexible monthly subscription: €4.99 (with advertising), €12.99 and €17.99 (without advertising, for two to four devices in parallel)
  • Up to five profiles can be created
  • Certified youth protection functions in accordance with German law

What is Netflix?

Netflix is a video streaming service where you have unlimited access to a huge selection of movies and series with your own account. The company has the rights to use them and also produces some films and series itself. Anyone who wants to use Netflix has to pay between €4.99 and €17.99 per month. The cheapest subscription has advertising in between – but this is soon to be completely removed. If you pay significantly more (at least 12.99 euros), you can stream on two or four devices simultaneously. Up to five profiles can be created per account with different settings, e.g. age rating, age rating, subtitle display or playback settings. The film and series suggestions in the profile also adhere to these settings, but what is actually suggested is calculated by an algorithm based on the viewing behavior of the individual user.

Account sharing, i.e. the use of an account by several people at the same time, is possible to a limited extent depending on the subscription. This is permitted with persons living in the same household. This is only permitted with persons from other households for an additional charge. The provider examines violations of this in various ways and demands compensation.

The subscription also includes Netflix games. Customers receive access to specially developed or licensed games for mobile devices. These can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or in the Google Play Store as separate game apps. There is no advertising or in-app purchases for the games.

What is problematic about the offer?

Netflix offers content for all ages. For the movies and series, the streaming service adopts the existing FSK rating. If there is no FSK rating, the age ratings are made by Netflix itself, which must comply with German law.

Due to the wide range of content on offer, there is also countless content for older teenagers (aged 16 and over) and adults (aged 18 and over) that can be frightening and problematic for children and young people. Parental controls can be set up by entering a PIN for selected age ratings or specific movie/series titles. In addition, profiles can be protected with a PIN and special children’s profiles can be set up.

Unlike with analog, linear television, you can theoretically watch series from start to finish. The appeal of spending a lot of time on Netflix is therefore high. Here, personal responsibility is required to limit one’s own viewing time . What is already difficult for some adults is even more difficult to control for children and even teenagers.

What does the provider think?

Netflix displays the respective age rating for movies/series in various places, on the overview page for the movie, in the detailed information or as an overlay at the beginning when playing. Also, individual titles can be locked for individual profiles. These will then also no longer appear in the search or in the suggestion list. In addition, individual profiles – e.g. the profile for adults or older children – can be assigned a PIN so that younger children do not have access. It is also possible to create children’s profiles. This gives you, as parents, the option of making settings appropriate to the age of your child. For example, you can see what content your child has watched in the last few days or you can prevent the next episode of a series from playing automatically.

What should parents pay attention to?

Pay attention to the age ratings of movies and series. Use the child or parental control options by creating appropriate profiles and protecting them with a secure PIN . This is the only way to ensure that your child cannot end up in the adult section from the child profile.

Only display titles suitable for children in the children’s profile; these are based on the age ratings 0, 6, 12, 16 or from 18 years. Consider whether automatically playing more episodes really makes sense for you. Also, you can have animation effects reduced in the child profile when navigating on the TV. When watching on portable devices, feel free to use the screen lock so that smaller children in particular cannot adjust anything on the device themselves.

Keep an eye on your child’s screen time. It’s best to set media rules together – and set a good example yourself. Media time should be just one of many other non-media activities. If you’re not sure how much time your child should spend in front of the TV or laptop, check out our video: “How much media time is too much?”

Ask your child about his or her favorite series or movies, and it’s best to watch them together so that your child doesn’t feel alone even during scary scenes. It can also turn the shared experience into a beautiful ritual .

Use Instagram safely

The social network Instagram continues to be very popular with children and young people, but is repeatedly criticized for not protecting them sufficiently. Instagram is working to improve security on the platform. The latest innovations:

  • By default, children and young people cannot receive direct messages from people they do not follow or with whom they are not connected – this also applies to other minors.
  • Parents must approve or reject changes to Instagram settings in Parental Controls, including security and privacy settings.
  • There are plans to introduce a new feature to protect children and young people from inappropriate images in messages. It is also intended to prevent minors from sending such images themselves in future.

Why were innovations necessary?

Minors were often unprotected on the platform, received inappropriate advertising, were tempted to use it extensively and could be contacted by strangers without restriction.

The legal situation in Germany has changed with the amendment of the German Youth Protection Act. Providers of social media platforms are now obliged to set up protective measures for minors. For example, there must be default settings so that strangers cannot simply contact minors. In addition, parents must be able to monitor and control their children.

What has already been adapted?

It is now more difficult to circumvent the age limit (use from the age of 13). Any person who Instagram wants to use must necessarily indicate their age, otherwise the account may be blocked. In addition, it is planned that accounts of minors will automatically be “private”. This means that young people decide for themselves who can see their profile. So far, this has been a voluntary option.

Protection from strangers: Minors can only be contacted by people or tagged in posts if they follow them themselves. If a stranger wants to follow minors, he/she will receive a warning. Posts by “suspicious” persons under the public posts of minors are now automatically invisible. It is also easier to delete your own posts, comments and other footprints.

The so-called parental control for Instagram has been in place since June 2022. Accounts of an adult can be linked to accounts of users under the age of 18. Both sides must agree and can end the parental supervision with a click. This makes it possible:

  • View usage times from the last week, set time limits or set breaks together with your child, for example during school or bedtime
  • A feature is planned that will remind young people at night that it is late and encourage them to close the app after spending more than 10 minutes on Reels or direct messages.
  • Weekly report: Who does your child follow, which new followers have been added
  • Children can inform parents if they report content to support while on duty. Parents can find out more about reporting or get expert advice in this section.
  • Not possible: Parents cannot read their children’s private messages or delete their account.

There is also a guide for parents with tips on how to deal with Instagram use, a list of suggestions for a conversation about use and a glossary of important terms.

What should you know about the new settings?

  • The true age of users cannot be determined with certainty. This means that a child can make themselves older and the security settings do not work. This problem exists on other social media platforms as well. In the future, artificial intelligence will help here, but this is still being tested.
  • There are no public guidelines as to when the behavior of adults on the platform is considered “suspicious” and comments are therefore no longer visible. The decision is therefore in the hands of the platform.

What do parents need to keep in mind?

  • Trust and dialog: If you as a parent gain insight into your child’s Instagram use, make sure you do not violate their privacy – because children and young people also have a right to this. Control doesn’t feel good for children and young people either. It is better to build a relationship of trust. Talk to your child about what he or she is doing on Instagram. Be open and interested!
  • Informing about risks: At the same time, you should also inform your child about possible dangers such as harmful content, hate speech, disinformation and manipulative content for political opinion making, war videos or fake videos. Communication risks ranging from cyberbullying to cybergrooming can also be addressed. Show your child which settings make the platform safer to use.
  • Support: Parental supervision can be a good way to support your child during their first time with the app. Support your child by setting up the account together and regularly discussing who is or will be subscribed. But this should happen in a constant exchange with each other. If your child sets their own account to private, you will no longer be able to see the postings.
  • Also ensure an appropriate service life.

Instagram has upgraded – but responsible use is still important. There are more tips for you as parents on how to talk to your child about safety, wellbeing and mental health on social media in the family section.

Gaming with the games console? Of course!

“How much gaming is too much?” and “What will help my child find a healthy way of using the games console?” – Have you ever asked yourself questions like these? Technical measures to protect minors from harmful media are a building block to help your child play safely and in a balanced way on the console. Depending on the age of the child, the type of games and the device, you as parents can make different settings.

Nintendo Switch

The parental control system of the Nintendo Switch has been tested by the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) and judged to be suitable as a program for the protection of minors within the meaning of the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV). With the free “Nintendo Switch age restrictions” app, you can set how much time your child is allowed to spend playing each day. You can restrict access rights to certain games and functions and receive notifications if specified limits are exceeded. You can also set the USK age rating for the game selection under “System settings > Age restrictions”. The app is available free of charge on Apple and Android devices. Current information about the app and the download links can be found on Nintendo’s youth protection pages. It is important to note that the app only works if the Nintendo Switch is running the latest software version. You can find instructions for the update here on the Nintendo website.

Xbox

The parental control system of the Xbox has been tested by the USK as a program for the protection of minors in accordance with the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media and meets the high German standards for the protection of minors in the media. On the Xbox you can limit your child’s playtime, control access to certain games and features and set monthly spending limits for digital purchases. Access to the Internet browser can be restricted to prevent visiting unsuitable websites and social media. The Xbox also enables control over online communication. You can specify who your child can chat or play with. You can define the settings on your cell phone using the “Xbox Family Settings app” by creating a child account for your child and adding them to the family group. The app is available free of charge in the app stores for Apple and Android devices. Current information about the app can be found on the Microsoft website.

Playstation

For the parental control settings on the Playstation your child needs their own account. To do this, enter a name (this can also be a nickname) and state your child’s date of birth for age checks during games. In addition, you must create a PlayStation Network account free of charge on the Playstation website. You can then add the child account to your account and manage it. On PS5 consoles, you can find the settings under “Settings > Family and parental controls > Family management”. PS4 consoles contain the settings for parental control under: “Settings > Parental Controls/Family Management > Family Management”.

You can set your child’s daily playtime on the Playstation. In addition, age restrictions can be set for content purchased online and for inserted Blu-Ray discs or DVDs. Other measures include restricting chat options and setting which content can be shared with others. You can find more information on setting up parental controls here on the Sony website.

What parents should pay attention

Many current games consoles offer user-friendly protection options, are very secure and meet high German youth protection standards if they have been set up accordingly. However, they alone do not offer one hundred percent protection. There is always the possibility that your child will come across inappropriate content with friends and on unsecured devices or come into contact with strangers. Talk to your child about the use of devices and services and be there as an open contact person for problems. Take your child’s concerns seriously and make it clear to them that they will not face any consequences if they turn to you in confidence.

Check and update the parental controls regularly to ensure that they are still appropriate and meet your child’s needs.

Discuss boundaries with your child and actively involve them in setting the parental control settings. Even if you have the last word: let your child know that you want to use the restrictions as a tool to help them learn how to use games consoles properly. Establish rules together for media use in the family that everyone adheres to. A media usage contract can help your child feel involved in the process.

You can find more up-to-date information on technical measures for various game platforms and consoles on the USK website.

Virtual parents’ evening on 23.04.2024 from 5 to 6 pm

My first smartphone (held in German)

When is my child actually old enough to have his or her own smartphone? It is not easy to give an answer to the question that is valid for every child. This is because, in addition to the usefulness of the smartphone, your child’s stage of development also plays a role in the decision. You know them best and can assess their media experience and general sense of responsibility.

You can find out when the right time is, how to deal with challenges, which safety settings you should make in advance and how you can help your child to use it as safely as possible at the virtual parents’ evening from Elternguide.online!

Join us live at the virtual parents’ evening of Elternguide.online and put your questions to our experts – we will provide answers and be available for discussion. The event will be held in German.

Information and registration

Date: 23.04.2024 | Time: 5 to 6 pm

Speakers: Sophia Mellitzer (JFF) and Sophie Pohle (Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk)

Moderation: FSM e.V.

Platform: The virtual parents’ evening is realized via the tool “Zoom”.

Privacy Notice: Zoom is a service of Zoom Video Communications Inc. which is based in the USA. We use Zoom via the German operator easymeet24. easymeet24 ‘s server is located in Europe. Furthermore, within the Zoom service we have chosen the configurations with the highest data and security protection.
Please also take note of our privacy policy. The event will be held in German.

Registration:

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    Monitor my child via Bluetooth tracking?

    A button on the jacket, an app on the cell phone – and all parental worries about lost children are a thing of the past once and for all, because the child can simply be tracked in an emergency. Sounds great? But Bluetooth tracking has its pitfalls …

    Bluetooth tracking – what is it actually?

    The days when children had to mark their paths with breadcrumbs, as in Hansel and Gretel, are over. Today we live in modern media worlds and can track children instead of looking for them. This works, for example, via devices such as smartwatches that locate themselves via GPS and immediately pass on the child’s location to the parents.

    But there is another option and that is Bluetooth trackers. The best known are probably the Apple Airtags or Samsung SmartTags, but there are also many other trackers from other providers. These small devices, the size and appearance of key rings, were originally designed to make objects easier to find. If you attach it to your key ring, wallet, bobby car – or even your child – you can locate it via Bluetooth if necessary. The connection between the tracker and smartphone (app) does not work via satellites as with GPS, but directly via radio waves. The tracker connects to an accessible smartphone with a tracker app and can thus determine and send an approximate location. Compared to GPS trackers, Bluetooth trackers are often smaller and lighter, the battery lasts longer and there are no monthly fees. However, they also work somewhat less accurately, especially in the countryside when there are only a few smartphones nearby.

    What can be problematic about Bluetooth tracking

    Bluetooth trackers are not the magic cure for relaxed childcare.

    On the one hand, Bluetooth is not technically the ultimate in searches: the trackers only really work if there are many matching devices in the vicinity. It therefore makes sense to use a popular tracking app, which is also installed on many other smartphones and helps to determine the location. In the forest, for example, they make no sense at all. In addition, they can only transmit an approximate location. For this reason, a specific area must still be searched in large crowds.

    On the other hand, the legal situation is still a little unclear. After all, children also have personal rights – and these include the right not to be monitored without their consent. So at the very least, a conversation and the child’s consent are required to fit them with a tracker. There is also the aspect of data economy to consider: if children are constantly sending and receiving Bluetooth data, strangers can also obtain location information that is none of their business.

    And then there is the relationship aspect: secretly monitoring a child is not conducive to building trust in the relationship.

    To track or not to track – what parents should consider

    So what to do when the question of a tracker arises?

    Have an open conversation with your child and discuss the arguments and scenarios with them in an age-appropriate manner. There are certainly situations – for example in amusement parks, at events or similar – where a tracker gives both you as parents and your child a certain freedom of movement and security. Anxious children in particular may be able to take more independent steps with a tracker in their pocket. In other, less dangerous moments, your child can also enjoy your trust and learn their own strategies for finding their way around.

    In all of this, it is important that your child does not get the feeling that they are being monitored or that you do not trust them. So be sure to talk about the ideas and arguments, possibilities and limitations of trackers – and decide together in which situations they seem useful and helpful to all family members and when not. At around 6 to 7 years of age, you can explain the tracking measure to your child in a child-friendly way.

    The Internet Phenomenon Pranks: From Funny and Harmless to Cocky and Risky

    Playing a prank on someone, for example ringing the front doorbell and then just running away, that’s probably something everyone did as a child and had fun with. Much like the challenge phenomenon, which involves filming yourself completing a challenge and posting the clip online, pranks are the modern version of the childhood prank: videos of pranks played on others can be found in large numbers on YouTube & Co. You can learn more about this in this text.

    What excites teens about pranks?

    As children get older and they begin to think ahead, that is, to imagine what will happen next, they get excited about pranks and movies in which mishaps happen to people.

    “Prank” is the English term for prank. Many influencers film the pranks they play on friends, other influencers from social networks or even uninvolved passers-by. People who play pranks on others in this way are called “pranksters”. Many of them are usually harmless and funny, such as prank phone calls or scaring your girlfriend or boyfriend in their sleep. If a person has been pranked, they are said to have been “pranked”.

    Especially the social networks popular with children and young people such as
    YouTube
    and
    TikTok
    are popular platforms for pranks of all kinds.

    What can be problematic about pranks?

    In order to attract a high level of attention from the community and get as many clicks as possible, however, some pranks are becoming increasingly problematic. YouTuber ApoRed dropped a bag in a savings bank during his “bomb prank” and shouted “You all have 30 seconds, you better run if you value your life!”. Some passers-by were very scared and subsequently had trouble sleeping. ApoRed was sentenced to probation and 200 community service hours. The trial was intended to make it clear that the state also takes note of crimes in social networks and does not tolerate them.

    This example is, of course, an extreme individual case that does not represent the rule. YouTube has since tightened its terms of use, as more and more such videos have had serious consequences. It is now illegal to post pranks and challenges that involve “the risk of real danger or death” on YouTube.

    Questionable family pranks

    Whether on TikTok, YouTube or Instagram – problematic pranks affect every age group. The aim here is often to frighten the “victim” with supposedly dangerous situations, sometimes even to provoke disgust or despair. In some cases, even young children are presented in this way by caregivers such as older siblings or parents, who are often particularly well received by the community due to their awkward behavior. One example of this is the “egg cracking prank”, in which parents pretend to record a baking video and then suddenly crack an egg on the child’s forehead. Other pranks also use face filters or similar to scare children. However, consumers of such videos must be aware that such pranks can lead to emotional damage in the children concerned and a loss of trust in important caregivers.

    You can find out more about questionable family pranks here at Webhelm.

    What parents should pay attention to

    In fact, young people are more likely to watch prank videos than make them themselves. However, influencers like to encourage people to imitate the content, whether with a camera or not, whether harmless or not. Young people are often not even aware of the consequences. Others may come to harm or may not find it funny to be featured in a video. The right to one’s own image is part of the personal rights to which everyone is entitled – including underage children. Explain to your child that uploading photos or videos without the consent of the persons recorded is prohibited. Disregarding personal rights can be prosecuted under criminal law in Germany.

    If your child enjoys watching such videos online, let them show you and tell you what they like about them. However, also make it clear that dangerous pranks in particular are not suitable for imitation and that a lot of content on social networks is staged, even if it appears authentic. Keep an open mind for funny and harmless challenges or pranks from your child’s influencers.

    You can find out more about the phenomenon of challenges in this article.

    JUUUPORT – Help for young people with questions about online topics

    Whether cyberbullying, computer game addiction or data protection: If young people have problems and questions about the Internet, they can contact the youth scouts and experts from JUUUPORT turn. The website also provides information, links and online seminars.

    Advice from experienced young people at eye level

    When young people have problems or questions, they sometimes find it difficult to talk to their parents or other adults, especially about sensitive topics such as cyberbullying or sexting. That’s why JUUUPORT has youth scouts who have experienced something similar and can advise other youth. They have undergone special training on Internet topics and in the areas of psychology and law and can be requested anonymously. If they get stuck, the young people’s concerns are passed on to adult experts who then take care of them.

    Various contact and information channels

    On JUUUPORT, counseling takes place free of charge, anonymously and in compliance with data protection laws. In addition to the contact form on the website, since May 2020 there is also the possibility to get advice via WhatsApp or Telegram chat. Messenger counseling is available Monday through Friday between 6 and 8 p.m.

    The JUUUPORT website also contains a wide range of information on Internet topics. In addition to tips on how to deal with cyberbullying, there is a magazine on various topics such as “Trends on the Net” or “Games”. They also provide a collection of links to other places for youth to go.

    Online seminars for schools, youth clubs and associations are also offered by JUUUPORT. Topics here include “Hate on the Net” and “WhatsApp Stress.” Perhaps there is a need for a seminar at your child’s school or you would like to draw attention to the offer with information material.

    Why not tell your child about JUUUPORT – maybe there are topics he or she would rather not discuss with you, but rather anonymously with other young people. If your child would like to get involved with JUUUPORT themselves and become a scout, they can sign up for training here.

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