In the media and digital world, children need to be guided by parents or others close to them. Observe the effect of media on children and how they react (for example fear or joy). Talk to them about it.
Children are fascinated by digital media from an early age. They watch their parents, older brothers and sisters as well as other key people in their lives and learn how to operate devices and then try things out for themselves. This is why it is important that adults closely accompany children in their use of media and take their reactions seriously.
Primarily, children under the age of three should spend time discovering their immediate, real environment; they need direct contact with people and things. Digital media can be used as a supplement, for example to look at photos or have a video call with relatives.
Children should be calmed down and given reassurance if media content makes them sad or perhaps even frightened. If it becomes apparent that using media is too much for a child, you should stop using the particular medium.
- The Online Zoo: Children's book aimed at the youngest users of kindergarden, preschool and primary school. Available in → English and several other languages.
- Children and the Media:
Parents and other people close to children are role models when it comes to using media. So make sure you give your own media habits some thought.
Children notice if more attention is paid to a mobile phone than to them. And studies show that children learn a more moderate use of media when rules on using media are established within the family and parents set a good example with their own behaviour.
So think about your own media habits and set an example, perhaps by sticking to screen-free times. Make sure that your mobile phone is on silent mode during dinner, weekend activities and during conversations, and that it is preferably not on the table. This will ensure you are not as distracted and that you can focus entirely on what you are supposed to be doing – and on the people around you.
Please always make sure that your smartphone is out of reach of children. This also applies to tablets and laptops.
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First and foremost, young children need your full attention, but also exercise and time for free play and discovery. This can be supplemented by the guided use of digital media. Using any form of screen media before going to bed makes it more difficult to go to sleep
Children need direct attention. Babies need real faces and voices as well as physical contact to feel mirrored. Smartphones, tablets, computers and the TV are thus not suitable for them.
Older children too should focus more on other activities, such as exercise, playing, being creative and reading. Digital media can supplement these experiences. It makes sense to create rituals, for example by allowing your child to watch three short videos every day after lunch. This means that you don't have to decide on the spot and can thus avoid discussions and arguments. What is more, children also learn to consciously use media content. Questions on specific topics can also be a reason for searching for answers together on websites suitable for children.
It is not recommended that children use screen media before they go to bed as this can make it more difficult for them to go to sleep.
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You determine how much time a child can spend in front of a screen a day. Every child is different. Observe the individual effect of digital media as well as the attention span of your child. Define clear limits and attach great importance to them being respected.
How long should children be allowed to watch TV, play on a tablet or watch videos? And when is it too much? These questions are obvious, but do not go far enough. Children are very different from one another: what might be too much for one, is absolutely acceptable for another. Observe your child's behaviour. Is your child well balanced or does he/she seem nervous – are other activities still important or is there a clear preference for sitting in front of a screen?
You determine how much screen time is allowed. For example: one episode of your child's favourite cartoon a day, or one computer game. When children are small, it is a good idea to watch things more than once because children often do not understand a story on first viewing. Fun content or content children are interested in are suitable, as are stories in which they are familiar with the characters and can watch stories with a happy end.
It is important that you make sure the agreed screen time is actually respected. It is often better not to set a specific time limit, as that could interrupt the child in the middle of a video or a game, but to orientate yourself towards a number of episodes of a series, a number of rounds in a game etc.
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Observe the age ratings for films (FSK etc.) and games (PEGI, USK etc.) and also think about whether you feel the content is suitable for your child.
Age ratings provide guidance as to whether games, films, television programmes or apps are appropriate to a child's age or whether their content could be disturbing. But it is certainly necessary to judge things for yourself as every child reacts differently. This means that even content that is deemed suitable for a particular age can still upset a child and produce an emotional reaction.
In the case of video games, the PEGI symbols, which are standardised throughout Europe, indicate the age group for which a game is suitable (3, 7, 12, 16, 18). Furthermore, pictograms on the packaging show whether the game contains violence, sex, drugs, discrimination, vulgar expressions, frightening content or forms/elements of gambling.
The Swiss Commission for the Protection of Minors in Film (JIF) formulates recommendations on admissible ages for cinema films and audio-visual media. Sometimes a (higher) recommended age is added to the admissible age. Imported film carriers from Germany are usually provided with the age rating of the FSK (the self-regulatory commission of the German film industry).
- PEGI: age labels and content descriptors
- Children and the Media
Do not use digital media to calm children down or occupy them. They only serve to settle children down physically, but mentally the media content still has to be processed. As far as possible, try to involve the child in everyday errands.
It is very tempting to use digital media to calm children down or keep them occupied - particularly if there is something you really have to get done or you need some peace and quiet. The fallacy here is that the children are only physically immobilised when they are watching television or playing a game. The media content still has to be processed mentally, however – and that can lead to inner restlessness. This is why putting a child in front of a tablet or smartphone in such a situation should remain an exception.
Instead, as far as possible try to involve the child in everyday errands (shopping, tidying up, cooking, cleaning, etc.). You are still paying attention to your child, stimulating him/her, and can give him/her responsibility for small tasks in a playful way.
Smartphones, tablets, TV and gaming consoles are not suitable as a means of punishment or reward. This increases their importance and it becomes all the more difficult to teach children about a moderate use of media.
Talk to your child in an age-appropriate manner about unsettling or disturbing content. Do not put a TV, computer/laptop or tablet in a child's bedroom. Filter software is useful but does not guarantee complete protection.
Filter programmes which block access to content that is not age-appropriate must be set up as soon as children start using the Internet without supervision (for example start watching YouTube videos on their own). These filter programmes do not, however, guarantee one hundred per cent protection.
It is important for children to know that they can turn to you if something worries them or seems strange to them. Take their reactions and feelings seriously, talk to them in a simple language they will understand about what they have seen or experienced, and show understanding for their insecurity or fear.
TV sets, computers, gaming consoles and tablets do not belong in a child's bedroom. If the devices are in areas of the house that are accessible for everyone, it is easier to keep a check on the screen times.
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On the Internet, and especially in social media, be careful with photos and personal details such as the child's name, address and age. Photos to be posted online should not show children's faces.
Everyone has the right to their own image – from birth. As parents or people close to the particular children, you should therefore always think about which photos or videos of the children you make public in social networks or send on WhatsApp. What might seem funny today, could well be embarrassing in a few years. If in doubt, you could ask yourself whether you would like to find a similar photo or video of yourself online. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to remove something from the Internet once it is online. For example, screenshots can be made of photos that have been posted, videos and pictures can be downloaded and shared without your knowing about it or having any control of what happens to them.
As a minimum form of protection, children's faces should not be shown on photos or in videos of whatever you want to publish in social networks. You can take photos of children from the back, for example, cover their faces with an emoji or pixel them out with editing programmes.
- Sharenting: 5 questions to ask before you post (healthychildren.org)
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Explain to your child how advertising works and how to distinguish it from other content on TV or on YouTube.
Small children cannot determine whether photos or videos are real or not. And they cannot detect companies' advertising strategies either. Make children aware of the fact that companies can place ads within games and apps, for example, so that people will buy their products. Explain to your child that not everything you see on TV or YouTube has anything to do with reality. And that photos are very easy to change using special computer programmes. If you know how it's done, the best idea would be to show your children with an example of your own photo.
Promote the creative use of digital photos, videos and music. There are very good games and videos that provide plenty of enjoyment. Furthermore, the Internet offers a wide selection of learning content.
Used responsibly, digital media offers lots of good opportunities. YouTube is full of tutorials (explanatory videos) and what are called «how to» videos, step-by-step instructions, for example on how to make things. You can also find printable pictures to colour in online as well as lots of games that are not just fun but also offer a range of valuable learning topics.
Children's websites take into account the fact that children's fine motor skills are not yet fully developed and combine age-appropriate knowledge, games and creative entertainment elements. Good children's apps are intuitively structured and clearly arranged; they encourage children to try things out and arouse their curiosity.
In addition, children like to imitate figures from their favourite films and games. That offers the chance for creative play with others of the same age.
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