Elternguide Logo

Search engines for children and teenagers

“How far is it to the moon?”, “Did dinosaurs have milk teeth?”, “Why do we celebrate Halloween?” – Children and young people are naturally curious and have lots of questions. They also surf the Internet in search of answers. But watch out: Google and other search engines were not developed primarily for children. Without filtering, children can quickly end up on pages with inappropriate content. That’s why there are children’s search engines.

Children’s search engines – what is it?

Children’s search engines are easy to use and use child-friendly language and images. They only link to content that is safe and interesting for children. All websites are checked and approved in advance by media educators. This enables safe surfing on the net.

In addition to the search function, many children’s search engines also offer educational videos, games and articles on various topics. They often offer tips on how children can best use search engines. For example, there are tips on specific search terms, searching for images or checking sources. In this way, children acquire important skills and develop their media literacy. Older children can be introduced to adult search engines after this practice period.

What are the search engines?

  • For children aged 6 to 12, the ad-free search engine fragFINN . The service has a playful structure, is data-secure and is also available as a child protection app.
  • Bright minds is aimed at children and young people aged 8 to 16. These websites contain child-friendly articles and links to safe online games and videos.
  • For older children, common search engines such as Google Ecosia, Yahoo and Bing are relevant. Certain filters can be activated there. They prevent inappropriate content (e.g. violence or sexual content) from being displayed in the search results. These filters are called Google , Bing and Yahoo “SafeSearch. With some search engines, an account can be created with which filters can be activated permanently and password-protected. You can read more about this in our article “Secure search on the Internet”.

What should parents pay attention to?

Children’s search engines are designed so that children can use them independently and have the most positive surfing experience possible during their first steps on the Internet. Accompany your child during the first use and explore the search engine together. This way you can explain important functions for the search in more detail. After the first joint testing, children can use the respective children’s search engine independently without hesitation. For this purpose, it is recommended to set up a child search engine for the default search in the browser. In addition, a child search engine can be set up as the start page.

If your child already knows how to use search engines and wants to use search engines such as Google , activate the “SafeSearch” filter for more security. Please note that despite filters, the search is never as secure as the review of content by media educators and that filters can be activated and deactivated independently under certain circumstances. Agree with your child on how to respond when he or she encounters inappropriate content. You can report inappropriate content that is displayed despite filter settings to the respective search engines.

Can’t find an answer to your question? Our messenger service directly on your smartphone

In order to provide you as parents with the best possible support for your child’s media education, we offer you the opportunity to ask your personal questions about your child’s media use directly and conveniently via WhatsApp or Threema to ask us.

Our professional team is at your side to offer you the right support. Whether you are unsure whether a certain app is suitable for your child, you are looking for tips on limiting screen time or you would like support in dealing with a new trend – we are here for you.

Our messenger service is easy to access:

  • WhatsApp: Add our number +49 176 / 550 506 99 to your contacts and send us your questions directly via the app.
  • Threema: For more secure communication, you can reach us there at +49 176 / 550 506 99 with the ID FSSABPY8.

Please note our conditions of participation.

Why should you use our messenger service?

Individual advice: We understand that every family is unique. Our team of experts will give you personalized tips tailored to your questions about media education.

Support in challenging situations: Be it dealing with cyberbullying, inappropriate content or the right time to introduce new media. Our team specializes in supporting you even in difficult situations.

Note: In acute problem situations or emergencies, please contact specialized experts directly, e.g. the Nummer gegen Kummer (www.nummergegenkummer.de) or the Telefonseelsorge (365 days a year, available around the clock: www.telefonseelsorge.de).

Direct access to experts: Our team keeps up to date with the latest developments – in a way that is probably not possible for you as a parent in the constantly evolving media world. You can easily reach us via Messenger.

Quick answers: Send us your question and we will answer you as quickly as possible with helpful information and tips. You will receive answers from the editorial team during normal business hours, i.e. not at weekends, on public holidays or at night.

Confidentiality: Your privacy is important to us. All your messages will be treated confidentially.

Free advice: Like all our services, our Messenger service is free of charge.

Everyone gets involved – involving caregivers in media education

“But I can be on my cell phone as much as I want with Grandma!”, “I’m allowed to be on my cell phone with my uncle. Fortnite gamble!”, “Today we watched another movie at school!” – Do statements like this sound familiar? Not only when it comes to Media rules of other parents goes. It can also be challenging for you as a parent if other caregivers are involved in media education. Perhaps you are wondering how you can deal with this.

Media education – not just a matter for parents

Choosing media according to age, limiting screen time, being a role model – as parents, you lay the foundation for your child’s conscious and competent use of media. The older your child gets, the more freely your child moves around and spends more and more time away from home. If they are alone with their grandparents, in an educational institution or visiting their cousins, other caregivers will automatically get involved in the use of media. This can affect the selection and duration of media content, but also your child’s privacy, such as sharing children’s photos.

Be careful with children’s photos – children’s rights are everyone’s business

If your child is on vacation at their aunt’s and you discover excursion pictures in their WhatsApp status or on social media, you as a parent may not necessarily be thrilled. Especially if the sharing of sensitive data was not previously agreed. Not all adults know that sharing children’s photos online can be problematic. Children have a right to privacy. Depending on their age and stage of development, they – and their parents – should be asked what pictures of them can be seen on the Internet. Talk to photo-loving relatives about this and express your views clearly. How to protect your child’s rights.

Regulating media use outside the home

As parents, you bear the main responsibility for a healthy upbringing with media. Which games are suitable for which age, what happens to your child’s data online, how devices and apps can be set to be child-safe – the media world is huge, confusing and constantly changing. As parents, you are faced with the challenge of staying up to date and informed – and you may be more on the ball than your child’s caregivers.

Perhaps you have negotiated media rules in the family or agreed a media usage contract with your child. There may be different rules for the siblings due to their age difference. Don’t be afraid to approach grandparents and co. Make your family’s media rules transparent and explain why it is important to you that the rules are also observed outside the home. Of course, time with grandpa, godmother or cousin can be something special, also in terms of media. Ask for exceptions to be agreed with you in advance. Because an open exchange is important for a trusting relationship. Keep in touch with your child about their media use outside the home and always have an open ear for problems. In this way, you can promote your child’s independence and media skills.

Shaping education together – also when it comes to media

If your child surfs the Internet at the youth club, photos from the carnival party end up in the class chat or is allowed to play games on the tablet at the after-school care center, this is part of your child’s mediatized world. Educational institutions usually have a media concept and pursue media education goals. If you are not comfortable with something, speak to the educational staff and approach them with an open and questioning attitude. Always ask for your child’s point of view – this way you both keep learning about media.

Game Master and co – creepy trends on the net

Creepy phenomena like the Game Master, scary chain letters like Momo or horror figures like Huggy Wuggy are constantly circulating on the Internet. But what exactly is behind it? And how can parents react to this? In this article we explain.

What or who is a game master?

The so-called Game Master is a darkly dressed, masked stranger who contacts YouTubers via WhatsApp or letter and sets them scary or dangerous tasks. These tasks must then be completed as quickly as possible. If the YouTubers do not fulfill the task set, they face penalties. Some of the Game Master’s actions even cross borders: he allegedly turns up at YouTubers’ homes or breaks into them and destroys their property. Their videos show how helpless the YouTubers seem to be at the mercy of the Game Master.

Have you ever seen a YouTube video featuring the supposed Game Master? Then you will have quickly noticed that the character and the story around it are made up. Presumably a person from the circle of friends has put on dark clothing and a mask. The interaction between YouTuber and Game Master is therefore a game.

Scary is very popular with children and young people

Whether it’s scary chain letters, creepy videos, horror computer games like Poppy Playtime or dark quotes from films and memes – many children and young people really enjoy these kinds of trends. There are many reasons for this: by consuming scary videos and messages, children and young people can test their own limits, prove something to others, distract themselves mentally or simply feel the adrenaline rush. For them, following the creepy trends is both exciting and scary at the same time. It is a small challenge, especially for children, to dare to watch such videos or read the news.

The big problem here is that children and young people do not always understand how such content is staged. Younger children in particular are not even aware of the actual origin of a scary phenomenon and are unable to classify it or find it difficult to do so.

What parents should pay attention to

News and videos like those of the Game Masters are designed to spread fear and horror among young viewers. Talk to your child about what is behind these phenomena. Explain to them that such videos or chain letters cannot be genuine. For example, ask yourself together how you would react if an unknown person came to your home unintentionally and wanted to harm you. Agree with your child that they will talk to you if they receive scary messages or videos.

To expose a chain letter or video as nonsense, it helps to search for it online. There is information on almost every phenomenon here. Explain to your child what a false report is and how they can deal with it. And last but not least, to avoid wasting any more energy on the unwanted message, simply delete it from your smartphone and do not forward it – also to protect other children. Please note that care should be taken when warning other parents or families so as not to inadvertently spread the phenomenon or videos unnecessarily. It is best to make it clear immediately that it is a deliberate hoax if this is the case.

What you can also do: Block the contact together with your child and report the content to the operators of the platform or to the relevant reporting offices.

The first own e-mail address – tips for a secure e-mail traffic

E-mails are commonplace for adults and many children and young people already use them regularly. A personal e-mail address is often required to log in to game sites and learning platforms, for example. Especially during the coronavirus lockdown, schools have increasingly sent information and tasks by email. We have a few tips for safe e-mailing for your child.

Unsolicited emails and dangers

Most e-mail providers are not specifically aimed at children and young people. Their inboxes are often equipped with many functions that are difficult for younger users to understand. There are also dangers such as spam, phishing and chain letters that children and young people need to be familiarized with.

Spam refers to unsolicited e-mails that contain advertising. They are sent by people or algorithms automatically and without prompting. The same applies to phishing emails that aim to defraud the recipient, for example through fake competitions or false invoices. Some of these emails also contain malicious links or files that can infect your computer.

Some of the unsolicited e-mails also contain content that is not suitable for children, such as pornography. This may be due to the fact that the e-mail address was used for chats or games when registering. Such services protect the personal data of their users to varying degrees, allowing strangers to contact children without their consent. This can be particularly overwhelming for children and young people who may not yet have developed strategies to deal with such risks.

Tips for parents

Before you set up an e-mail address for your child, you should think together about what it will be used for. Children under the age of 13 are not yet allowed to use many services (according to the General Terms and Conditions and Data Protection Act). Many schools offer their own e-mail addresses for school purposes, which must meet certain security standards. Explain to your child that such an address may only be used for school purposes. Among other things, such e-mail addresses (e.g. lena.meier@schule-am-hasengraben.de) can reveal specific information about your child. This can be risky if the address falls into the wrong hands.

Even with “private” email addresses, for example for social media, it is important that your child uses an imaginary name and that the email address cannot be traced back to them. Make it clear to your child that the e-mail address should not be passed on carelessly. It is best to use a secure e-mail provider.

Also explain to your child what spam is and how to deal with it. In many programs, spam messages can be marked so that they are automatically sorted out. If the sender of an e-mail is unknown, you and your child should be careful. It is best to delete such messages immediately and do not click on links or file attachments.

If your child is old enough to log on to social media or other services, do it together. Make sure that the e-mail address is not displayed publicly. Switch off information e-mails from the provider. Otherwise, the mailbox can quickly become overcrowded and it will be difficult for your child to distinguish between spam and important messages.

E-mail programs for children

Especially for younger children it is recommended to use a suitable e-mail program. Mail providers especially for children have only the most important functions and guarantee certain protective measures:

  • With Mail4Kidz and Kidsmail24, young users only receive emails from people who are already listed in their own so-called friend book.
  • With ZUM-Grundschulpost, parents or guardians even receive messages from strangers and can then decide whether they are trustworthy.

The child-friendly programs all have spam and virus protection. This will prevent your child from receiving unwanted advertising or chain letters in the first place. However, ZUM ‘s internal search is linked to Google, which is why adult search results may also appear.

Some of the programs are free of charge(Mail4Kidz for the first six months) and are particularly suitable for children under the age of 15. Kidsmail24 users have the option of switching to an unrestricted account once they reach the age of 14. Despite child-friendly programs, your child is never protected from all risks on the net. As a parent, you should therefore talk to your child regularly about their contacts on the Internet and give your child the security of knowing that they can turn to you if they have any problems.

Information on elections and politics for children and young people

In June 2024, elections to the European Parliament will be held in all EU member states. For the first time in Germany, young people aged 16 and over are allowed to vote. The topic of elections raises questions for many young people. Even children are often interested in political issues. However, voting systems in particular are a complex topic that is difficult to understand even for many adults. We have compiled a selection of high-quality online services that provide children and young people with age-appropriate answers to their questions about elections and politics.

Information pages for children

Kuppelkucker – the Bundestag explained for children

Kuppelkucker is the children’s website of the German Bundestag. Current news from the Bundestag for children aged 5 to 12 is published here twice a week. Explanations of terms and institutions of the German government can be found in the lexicon. Quizzes such as the election quiz and explanatory videos such as this one on the Bundestag elections offer an interactive experience of the site.

Logo! – Children’s news

Logo!, the children’s news program of the public broadcaster, also devotes several contributions to the topic of elections and politics. An overview page explains various institutions in Germany, explains important terms and introduces individual parties. Logo! also offers articles about the EU and the European Parliament. The Logo! program is aimed at children between the ages of 8 and 12.

SWR Kindernetz – Knowledge portal for children

Südwestrundfunk regularly publishes child-friendly video and audio contributions on the SWR Kindernetz portal, supplemented by short knowledge articles. Here you can find some contributions on political topics such as women’s suffrage or the German constitution. Children can play an election quiz directly on the website.

Sendung mit der Maus – the popular knowledge program

Sendung mit der Maus has set up a special page on the subject of democracy and elections, on which various videos are available for children aged 5 and over.

Checker Welt – reports suitable for children

Presenter Checker Tobi from Checker Welt deals with the topic of democracy and the importance of elections in the report Democracy Check, which is aimed at an audience aged 6 and over.

What is What – Non-fiction books for children

The well-known Was ist Was book series is aimed at children aged 8 and over. A brochure on democracy and elections in the typical Was ist Was style is available for free download on the website.

Geolino Special – the children’s podcast

Geolino Spezial is a knowledge podcast for children. Episode 81 is all about elections.

Information pages for young people

Hanisauland – political education for young people

The Hanisauland portal communicates political and social issues to children between the ages of 8 and 14 in a playful way. Knowledge articles and a lexicon explain important terms and topics. Children can post their own questions under the articles. The portal highlights special topics such as elections and the upcoming European elections. Children and young people can test what they have learned in the quiz on the topic of elections.

Federal Agency for Civic Education – Politics, History, International Affairs

The knowledge section of the Federal Agency for Civic Education provides answers to the most important questions about democracy and elections in the form of articles and booklets. A special overview page has been put together for the 2024 European elections, including the Wahl-O-Mat.

U18.org – Portal for first-time voters

“Who, how, what is Europe?” – these are the questions answered by the U18.org information page of the German Federal Youth Council. The focus here is on young people’s issues in politics, youth elections, events and political education.

Youth portals – networking and information

The European Youth Portal offers young people living, learning and working in Europe the opportunity to find out about opportunities and initiatives at EU level and in the individual countries. The German Bundestag’s mitmischen.de portal encourages young people to become politically or journalistically active themselves.

Political education on social media

Instagram channels for political education such as politikverstehen_ and nini_erklaert_politik make it easy and entertaining to understand what is currently being discussed in politics and society. On YouTube, influencers like LeFloid or networks like funk tackle social issues with factual accuracy and humor.

What parents should pay attention

When it comes to political education, parents are an important role model for children. Emphasize the importance of elections and encourage your child to stand up for values such as democracy and social justice. Give your child access to age-appropriate news and information sites and search engines and talk to them about political issues. Because by gaining a certain basic understanding of democracy and elections, your child learns why their own opinion and vote are important. Do not force your child to do this, but build on their existing interest.

In connection with elections and democracy, disinformation and fake news are circulating on the internet and on social media platforms. Talk to your child about fake news online and explain to them how they can check news and content. HanisauLand or Team Timster offer programs for children and young people to educate them about fake news and the like.

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.

_%_Aktivieren Sie JavaScript um das Video zu sehen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvLSkQ-yMCo_%_

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.

Self-harm among young people – Eating disorders online

During puberty, adolescents’ bodies go through major changes that they first have to come to terms with. At the same time, young people are looking for affirmation and recognition. Social media such as Instagram,
TikTok
and
WhatsApp
also play a role: selfies are sent or posted in the hope of receiving positive feedback. Influencers show themselves in perfect and slim bodies that serve as role models for young people.

Sometimes young people cannot find a contact person among their family or friends or prefer to talk to strangers out of insecurity. The Internet offers many opportunities to obtain information and exchange information anonymously.

Supposed help in internet forums

In addition to a lot of helpful information, you can unfortunately also find offers on the Internet that glorify self-harming behavior by people – especially young people. Pro-ana or pro-mia blogs are forums where people suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia can contact each other and exchange ideas. It is mainly young girls who meet there. Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia are deliberately chosen abbreviations for Pro-Anorexia Nervosa (anorexia nervosa) and Pro-Bulimia Nervosa (binge eating disorder). Blogs are not about supporting each other in getting a handle on the disease. Instead, the disease is presented as a lifestyle. In “Thinspirations”, members of the communities share their photos and videos of beauty ideals. This can include features such as protruding bones or the gap between the thighs.

Hunger and weight loss groups in messengers and glorifying profiles on social media

In WhatsApp groups, young people encourage each other to eat as little as possible. These groups often come about via eating disorder blogs or calls on social media platforms. The group members take part in hunger challenges or have to prove that they have lost weight by taking a photo of the scales every week. Those who don’t follow the rules are kicked out or receive punishments such as deliberate vomiting or an extra portion of sport. The blogs and social media profiles also contain glorifying content such as professions of faith or the ten pro-ana commandments: “If I’m not thin, then I can’t be attractive” is the first commandment, for example.

Many pro-ana blogs have now been blocked or are no longer in operation. Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and other social media platforms also block content with the respective hashtags and refer to advice services instead. However, there are still blogs that are not yet blocked and social media sites that are less strictly controlled, such as TikTok. This means that it is still easy to view glorifying images and videos or access WhatsApp groups.

Children and adolescents with eating disorders find reassurance in such online exchange spaces. The strong sense of community encourages them to continue their self-harming behavior. This can be particularly dangerous if risks are dismissed, group members are urged to keep their illness a secret and refuse outside help.

How you as a parent can protect your child from this

First of all, it is important that you are always the contact person for your child, also with regard to their Internet use. It is difficult for you to prevent your child from encountering inappropriate content. You should therefore talk to your child about the fact that there are also problematic sites and communication risks on the Internet and always stand by their side. If you yourself end up on websites that specifically glorify eating disorders, contact the platform’s support or have them checked by a reporting office.

Regardless of your child’s online use, you should always boost your child’s self-esteem and avoid negative comments about their appearance or weight. If you suspect an eating disorder, you can find information and help from counseling centers, e.g. the Federal Center for Health Education or digital counseling services for children and adolescents.

Prohibited symbols on the net

Anyone who smears a swastika on a house wall will be punished for it. But the street has long since ceased to be the sole place for the dissemination of forbidden symbols. On the internet, one click is all it takes to share a text, image or video with prohibited content with numerous readers. As in the physical world, there are also rules in the digital world. We provide information about prohibited symbols on the Internet.

What are prohibited symbols?

It is forbidden to use signs of unconstitutional organizations. This is stated in Section 86a of the Criminal Code. Such marks are symbols that can be clearly assigned to a specific organization, such as the swastika. Slogans such as “Heil Hitler” are also banned because they clearly refer to National Socialism. Unconstitutional organizations are banned parties, associations or Nazi organizations.

Rules on the net

Sharing prohibited symbols online is not always punishable by law. For example, if someone writes “Heil Hitler” in a private chat, this has no legal consequences. However, if the same person shares this publicly on platforms such as Facebook, X or TikTok, it is punishable by law. The distribution of such symbols in public spaces is prohibited by law.
Parents are not liable for their children if they share prohibited content under the age of 14. However, in most cases the youth welfare office is informed, which works with the parents and child to try to work through the background to the sharing. From the age of 14, juveniles can be prosecuted under the Criminal Code.

Dangers for children

Children can share forbidden symbols such as the swastika or SS runes online with a simple click, without understanding the potential legal consequences. In what way prohibited symbols are shared does not matter. Whether in text, photos or videos – public sharing in itself is punishable by law. That’s what makes it so treacherous, especially for children. Because a video or meme that seems funny at first glance may contain prohibited symbols. Anyone who is not familiar with it has quickly shared it and thus spread prohibited content.
It is also problematic that some symbols are banned in Germany, while they are permitted in other parts of the world. Symbols from the Nazi era in particular may be legally shared online in some countries. This is why children can unknowingly google, download and share the swastika – despite the ban in Germany. Extremist groups often use social networks to share banned symbols and content, as many people are reached and tracking is often difficult.

What should parents pay attention to?

Education and guidance: Find out together with your child which symbols are prohibited and why, in order to develop a better understanding of potentially problematic content. It is important and permitted to show such symbols for educational purposes and to explain the background and consequences. A good and quick overview is provided by the Democracy and Diversity website and the NinA NRW project. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has detailed descriptions of various distinctive signs and symbols of right-wing extremist movements.

Delete and report: If you or your child receive a forbidden symbol in private chats, delete it immediately. If you discover any on the Internet, it is important to report them to the police or to complaints offices on the Internet.

Open communication: Encourage an open exchange about online activities. Encourage your child to talk about their experiences online, including unpleasant or worrying situations.

Encourage critical thinking: Strengthen your child’s critical thinking in the online environment. Discuss how to critically scrutinize news and content on the Internet.

Against trivialization: Take an active stand against the trivialization of prohibited symbols. Explain to your child that these symbols represent extremist ideologies in today’s world.

For resistance: Encourage your child to take a stand against the distribution of prohibited symbols. Promote a positive online community, stand up for tolerance and democratic values.

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.

Project partners
Supporter