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Recommendations for parents of children from 6 to 13 years

Digital media are omnipresent in the world today – and that applies to children too. They experience how adults communicate via the Internet, obtain information online and use digital media for entertainment. But they also consume online content themselves, whether in their leisure time or at school. This is why parents ask themselves many questions about how to use media. One thing is certain: in order for children to learn how to use digital media safely and responsibly, they need guidance and support – but also the opportunity to make their own experiences and to try things out within a protected framework.

Make sure children do not spend all their free time with digital media but that they also engage in other leisure activities - e.g. being active outside, doing sport and meeting up with their peers. Using any form of screen media before going to bed makes it more difficult to go to sleep.

Too much time in front of a screen – whether TV, mobile or tablet – leads to a lack of exercise, which can have serious consequences, especially for children as they can begin to have behavioural problems or become overweight. A good balance between online and offline activities is thus extremely important for both the physical and psychological development of children. Playing with friends, doing sport or doing things together as a family should feature regularly in leisure time.

Boredom does not immediately have to be combated with a smartphone, tablet or gaming console. Today we know that creativity is actually stimulated by a phase of doing nothing. It is also important for a person's development to learn to tolerate boredom from time to time. Collect ideas together for offline activities or have a competition as to who can go the longest without a mobile, computer or gaming console. If children spend time in front of a screen before going to bed, this can make it difficult for them to go to sleep. Encourage other rituals for bedtime – for example, talking about what has happened during the day, listening to an audio book, reading aloud to your child or the child reading a book themselves.

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If possible, decide together with your child how much time he/she should spend in front of a screen per day or week (for example one episode of a series or one round of a game). Define clear limits and make sure they are respected. From the outset, make sure it is clear what the consequences will be if agreements are not adhered to.

How long should children be allowed to watch TV, play computer games, surf the net or use a mobile phone? And when is it too much? These questions are obvious, but do not go far enough. Children are individually 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 out of sorts or nervous? Are other activities suddenly being neglected in favour of media consumption?

When making agreements, make it clear that the entire screen time is meant – in other words TV, games, mobile phone and Internet. Set clear limits and make sure that everyone does actually stick to these mutual agreements. From the outset, make sure you make it clear what the consequences will be if this does not happen. Furthermore, TV sets, computers, gaming consoles etc. 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 agreed screen times.

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  • Campaign «3-6-9-12»: Growing up and understanding digital tools – Flyer in → English and → other languages

The Internet offers opportunities but also presents a number of risks. Help children to find their way online, support them and talk to them about their experiences.

The Internet is fascinating and children are coming into contact with it earlier and earlier because it is important in everyday family life and in the adult world.

It is particularly important that you, as an adult, provide your children with guidance when they are exploring the Internet. Help them find their way around. Make it clear to them where they have to be careful, for example when it comes to personal data and pictures or chats. Children should never download games or apps without their parents' permission. According to the terms of use, registration in social networks is generally only permitted from the age of 13.

Special children's websites help make first age-appropriate experiences on the Internet possible. These include knowledge sites, children's search engines and children's news. These sites are suitable as the welcome page for a child's browser profile. Find out which sites are suitable and then explore them together.

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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 orient themselves in many things to their parents or other adults close to them. And that is also true of digital media. Studies show that children learn a more moderate use of media if their parents set a good example with their behaviour and if rules are set up within the family.

So think about your own media habits and set an example perhaps by sticking to screen-free or mobile-free times. Show them that you do not have to be online all the time and that there are lots of fun things to do offline, too. 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 distracted and that you can focus entirely on what you are supposed to be doing – and on the people around you. As a general rule, make sure children cannot access your smartphone, tablet or computer.

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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).

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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.

Instead, as far as possible try to involve the child in everyday errands (shopping, tidying up, cooking, cleaning, etc.). For children, this is a challenge and they are also given a sense of responsibility.

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. Threats and punishments can also be counter-productive and lead to children not telling their parents that they have seen something disturbing on the Internet if they should not have been online in the first place.

Talk to your child in an age-appropriate manner about unsettling or disturbing content. If at all possible, 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. These do not, however, guarantee one hundred per cent protection. It is important that children understand the risks that surfing and chatting as well as social networks entail.

Explain things in a simple language they will understand. For example, talk about topics such as violence and sexuality, and why it is possible that you may unintentionally come across content on the net that is unsettling, disturbing or frightening. Children should know that they can turn to you if something worries them or seems strange to them.

If adults and children share the same computer, it is important to create different user accounts. And remember that it is possible for children to be online on devices other than a computer: smartphones and other WLAN-capable devices such as iPods, tablets and gaming consoles also make it possible to access the Internet.

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Explain to your children that sharing personal details and pictures of themselves and others can be problematic. Children should not share any personal data without talking to you about it first. They should only meet online acquaintances if accompanied by an adult.

Children need to know that they must be careful when disclosing personal information and that they should never give their full name, address, telephone number or date of birth. A nickname should be used as a profile or user name, as well as for an e-mail address. Make sure you help your children create their profiles and e-mail accounts.

For social media services such as Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp, the terms and conditions of use usually stipulate a minimum age of 13 years. Younger children officially need the consent of their parent/legal guardian.

Explain to the children that you never know how posts, photos and videos published online are distributed further and that things often cannot be deleted once they have been posted. This should always be in the back of everyone's mind before content is actually published online.

Tell your children that there are also fake profiles. People who have a sexual interest in minors unfortunately often use social networks and chats to make contact with children. If children want to meet someone they have met online, they should always be accompanied by an adult.

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Everyone has the right to their own image. Before posting or sending photos and videos, the consent of the persons depicted should be obtained.

As parents or people close to the child, 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. Ask your children whether they agree to your posting or sending a particular photo. Please always remember that this is something that younger children in particular find difficult to assess. 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, or even impossible, to delete something once it is online. And videos and photos that have been posted (or screenshots thereof) can be shared without your knowing about it or having any control of what happens to them.

Copyright law also applies to third-party images, videos and other media content. They can be used for your own purposes at school and at home. Without specifying your source, however, such contents must not be distributed further. And under no circumstances should you say that you have taken/made them yourself.

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Remind children to show respect when sending comments and messages. If children feel they are being attacked online, they should be taken seriously. In the case of cyberbullying, hate speeches or discrimination, it may be necessary to ask an expert for help.

Cyberbullying is when someone is systematically embarrassed and bullied in social networks or chats, for example. Insults, discrimination and hostility towards others also occur frequently on the Internet. This often centres on where other people come from, the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender or sexual orientation.

Explain to your children that respectful conduct online is important as soon as they start using the Internet themselves. That applies just as much to the sending of messages and e-mails as it does to commenting on media content or expressing an opinion.

Children should also be aware that the Internet is not a lawless space. And anyone violating the dignity of others or inciting others to be violent is liable for prosecution. And even though cyberbullying is not an explicit statutory offence, perpetrators can be called to account.

If children become the victims of cyberbullying, or are subjected to hate speeches or discrimination, screenshots should be taken as evidence. Do not hesitate to ask for professional help.

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Talk to your child about the subject of fake news and how to recognise such news. Explain how advertising works, for example in-game advertising or the placement of products in influencer videos.

One of the greatest challenges is to decide whether reports are true and photos and videos correspond to reality. Help children develop strategies to critically examine media content. Tell children that not everything that may look professional and seem reputable is actually genuine.

Children should also understand marketing strategies as such, e.g. ads that pop up in games or apps, or product placements on the YouTube and social media channels of their idols. Explain to them the economic interests behind such advertising deals.

Particularly in the case of influencers, and in fact generally in the advertising business, the focus is on conveyed values, role models and beauty ideals. Discuss this issue with your children and make it clear that the photos and videos shown are usually mastered. Flawless skin, perfect bodies and bulging muscles – Photoshop and other programmes make it easy to retouch images and video recordings.

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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 and tutorials.

Used responsibly, digital media offers lots of good opportunities. YouTube is full of tutorials (explanatory videos) which can help children learn and do their homework. It is important to find trustworthy sources and well-prepared videos that convey the learning content correctly. What are referred to as «How-to» videos give step-by-step instructions, for example on how to make things or play music. And lots of games are not just fun but also offer a range of valuable learning topics.

Digital media can also be used creatively in very different ways. Photo or sound stories, self-produced blogs, vlogs and films, or perhaps even a programming workshop – there are numerous ways in which children can develop and use their digital skills in a playful way.

One suitable family activity is geocaching, in which a smartphone is used for digital paper chases.

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