For parents, it is a challenge to keep track of the huge range on offer on TV and streaming platforms: Movies and TV shows, series, non-fictional formats such as reports and documentaries, casting, stunt and game shows, erotic offerings, music videos and docu-soaps or coaching programs. Which media content is age-appropriate for my child, which is unsuitable and which should I protect my child from? An initial orientation for age-appropriate programs is provided by the age ratings and the associated broadcast times – they are often based on a rating by Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Fernsehen e.V. (FSF).
The FSF is a non-profit, legally recognized association that supports private television broadcasters, telemedia providers and streaming services in implementing youth protection regulations in Germany. To this end, the FSF offers content review by independent experts who set age ratings and broadcast times, identify objectionable content, and recommend cuts if necessary.
The basis for the audit is the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV), which regulates the protection of minors from unsuitable media content. The aim is to protect children and young people from content that is harmful to their development, e.g. drastic depictions of violence, excessively frightening scenes or questionable role models. This content is rated with the ability of different age groups in mind and given a clearance of 6, 12, 16 or 18. In media libraries or streaming services, these age indicators are displayed; on TV, they are associated with specific broadcast times:
The age ratings are also stored by many providers as technical identifiers that can be recognized by youth protection programs. More information is available here on the FSF website.
The FSF reviews content of all genres, especially series, documentaries and films shown on television or online platforms. But commercials and program trailers, music videos, show formats, docu-soaps or reportage and news programs can also be relevant to youth protection and submitted for review.
The FSF reviews content submitted by TV broadcasters or streaming service providers upon request. The evaluation takes place in examination committees with three or five independent examiners. They come from different disciplines such as media education, psychology, media science or law. A program is screened and possible risks are discussed. The decision for the appropriate age rating is made by simple majority. More information on program review can be found on the FSF website.
The key risk areas are violence, fear and disorientation. Essential for the evaluation is the context.
In the case of depictions of violence, for example, the question is whether the violence appears positive overall and could thus increase children’s and young people’s willingness to engage in violence and conflict: Is the depicted violence more likely to be endorsed or rejected? Is it presented as something fascinating? Does it seem more artificial or realistic? Is it exercised by the villain or the hero or heroine? And is it successful in the end?
Similar questions arise in the case of the effect risk of disorientation, e.g. in the case of representations of prejudices or role clichés, of drug abuse or of risky behavior: Do problematic behaviors appear attractive and worthy of imitation or are they critically commented on or rejected?
Risks of excessive anxiety come into consideration especially in the lower age groups. Younger children often cannot adequately process moments of shock or images of violence or injury or separate themselves from stressful issues such as parental separation.
The extent to which media content is likely to trigger fears or negatively influence the values of children and young people depends on the ability of the respective age group to cope with stressful scenes and to classify and question problematic statements. More information on impact risks is available on the FSF website.
Age ratings and broadcast times are a guide, but should not be the sole basis for media selection. Each child develops individually and has different needs and levels of maturity. Therefore, use other information to assess whether a content is suitable for your child and fits his or her personal situation. Age ratings are not recommendations!
Accompany your child’s media use. Talk to him about his media experiences and help him understand and classify media content. The FSF’s assessments can help you make informed, age-appropriate choices.
Parents can contact the FSF Complaints Office with comments and complaints about TV or streaming content. In justified cases, an audit will be initiated.