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Let the Children Take Command, and the Parents Have Control?

Published on: 20.11.13

At a joint event on 12 November 2013 in Berlin, organised by Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk (a Children’s Charity in Germany), E-Plus Group and Stiftung Digitale Chancen , children and adults have discussed the role of the mobiles and smartphones in their daily routine.

The initial focus was on the children’s point of view. Why are their mobile phones so important to them? Should parents be allowed to know everything, are there usage restrictions in place, do parents monitor the usage? Prior to the event nearly one hundred children had taken part in an online survey and completed the sentence "My mobile phone is important to me because...". Furthermore children had spoken out on their mobile phone use in a video. The results are available at discussion. They were the basis for the discussions during the event.

In the afternoon a group of school children had already occupied the BASE-camp to participate in a workshop on mobile phone usage conducted by the media pedagogue Julian Kulasza (WeTeK Berlin gGmbH, also responsible for the project "Medienkompetenz in Pankow von 0 auf 100!") to get prepared for the debate with adult experts in the evening. At the beginning the children were answering the moderator’s questions what they had elaborated during the workshop and how important their mobile phones were to them.

children relate their experience

Playing games, calling friends and text messages are the mobile phone features which matter to them most. Many expressed the wish to own a modern smart phone, since their old mobiles “didn’t go down well'' among their classmates.

The mobile phone as a status symbol among children was subsequently also the topic of the discussion between the experts. Prof. Hans Joachim von Gottberg (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft - Voluntary Self Regulation of the Film Industry) emphasised the importance of media education in the family and pointed out that parents should teach their children an appropriate handling of the devices. Isabell Rausch-Jarolimek (fragFinn e.V.) introduced her service fragFinn.de, a "walled garden" search engine for children up to year 12 based on a "whitelist" of certified websites. Prof. Herbert Kubicek (Digital Opportunities Foundation) argued for an educational approach since the parental control tools available today often cannot reliably prevent children’s access to unsuitable content. He introduced the current findings of the EU project “SIP Benchmark III'' which evaluates the efficiency and usability of parental control tools. Due to the rise of mobile internet usage the latest test cycle focused on filter software products for mobile devices. Harald Geywitz (E-Plus Group) added that the filtering of these products usually only applies to browser-based content while apps, which are particularly popular among young users, remain unaccounted. Prof. Kubicek stressed the necessity of dialogue between parents and their children. The balancing act between privacy and the duty of parental supervision is not easy to accomplish; however, technical youth protection tools should only be used by mutual consent in order to avoid an irreparable loss of trust.

All experts accentuated the fact that the internet both offers opportunities and poses threats to children. Technical youth protection can support a safe online usage by younger children. Primarily, though, children have to gain digital literacy in order to be able to identify and appraise risks on the internet.

paneldiscussion in the Base_camp

Parents should surf the web together with their children and talk to them about their internet usage habits and preferences. In that way they can learn about their children's behaviour, inform their children about potential threats and show them a safe way to use the internet. However, not all parents are able to do so as they often lack sufficient digital literacy themselves. Somehow they are hesitant to engage in an exchange with their children, who are often more skilled in technical matters, and frequently they also lack an awareness of the opportunities and risks of internet use. The experts also pointed out that especially for older children Parental controls are not an appropriate means for protection since many products can be easily disabled or circumvented. As internet usage via mobile devices more and more happens outside the range of parental supervision there is a need for a constructive dialogue between young people and their legal guardians. Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk’s “Handy-Guide“ (mobile phone guide), which is also available online, can provide a starting point for a conversation and support parents in the communication with their children.

Özcan Mutlu (MdB, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen - member of parliament, the Green Party) related which role politics could play in the internet use of children and adolescents. He addressed a structural implementation of the promotion of digital literacy in teacher education as well as in school curricula. Isabell Rausch-Jarolimek pointed out in this context that there should not be one school subject “digital literacy education'' but that the promotion of digital literacy is instead a cross-subject task which should be part of all school subjects.

Toward the end of the debate Sabine Frank (youth protection and digital literacy executive Google Germany GmbH) explained the concept of the so-called “supervised user'' which is currently tested by Google in a beta version of Chrome and is planned to be further developed for the use on mobile devices.

 panelists from left to right: Ingo Dubinski, Harald Geywitz, Sabine Frank, Julian Kulasza, Prof. Dr. Herbert Kubicek, Holder Hofmann, Özcan Mutlu

It is based on the assumption that inexperienced users - e.g. children or elderly people - are being supported by another person who can coordinate and gradually extend their access to internet content. She corroborated the importance of the promotion of digital literacy and the considerable demand for digital literacy education at school and in the family. Julian Kulasza related experiences from the field of practical youth work with media. Computers and mobile phones are commodity items for children and adolescents and the internet is a part of their lives. Therefore social youth work needs to address the topic. According to Kulasza there is currently a high demand from schools for counseling and workshops on the problems of internet usage such as cyber bullying. Holger Hofmann (Children’s Charity of Germany) attested the need of educational measures regards digital literacy. For that sufficient funds have to be made available in order to facilitate a safe online experience for children and young people in the future.

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