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Published 15.03.24

Between children's programmes & social media: Pre-teens and the challenges for youth media protection and media literacy

Jutta Croll & Torsten Krause, SDC

Initiating discourse and debate is the declared aim of the "medien impuls" series of events organised by the Freiwillige Selbstkontrollen Multimedia-Diensteanbieter (FSM) and Fernsehen (FSF).

This was successfully achieved on Tuesday at the Bertelsmann Representative Office in Berlin, when the participants discussed who the so-called pre-teens are and what interests and needs they have when using media. Based on the results of the KIM and JIM studies, Stephan Glöckler, Head of Citizens' Television/Media Research at the Rhineland-Palatinate Media Authority, presented where young people between the ages of nine and 13 spend their time and what is really important to them when they are online. Afterwards, Jutta Croll, Chairwoman of the Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Digital Opportunities Foundation), and Anke Meinders, Managing Director of fragFINN, discussed with Stephan Glöckler what services are available for children between primary school and adolescent age. The focus was on the question of how to define "child-appropriate" for this age group. With reference to General Comment No.25 on the rights of children in the digital environment, Jutta Croll explained what the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child understands by this and what obligations this entails for state actors and companies. From an analysis of more than one hundred services, which is currently being carried out by the Stiftung Digitale Chancen as part of a research commission by the Federal Agency for the Protection of Children and Young People in the Media, she reported that the need to interact with peers is often missed out when it comes to websites and apps aimed at children. A design that is too childlike and a limited scope of search results could be reasons why children in this age group turn to services not aimed at them at an early age, according to Croll. Anke Meinders from the fragfinn editorial team confirmed the positive feedback from young users of the site and their interest in being able to socialise with other children.

In order to communicate with each other, but also with other people such as their families, pre-teens use platforms and messengers that do not provide for this according to their terms and conditions (T&C’s). A combination of pragmatism and a lack of knowledge of the potential risks associated with this use on the side of young users, but sometimes also the providers' lack of interest in enforcing their own terms and conditions, encourage this behaviour. Various ways of countering this were discussed. For example, a child-appropriate and secure messenger for children and young people could fulfil the need for communication. For instance, knowing the age or the reliable assignment to an age group of all users of a service, it would be conceivable for existing services to also address younger users and in this case provide them with special protection and prevention mechanisms.

Suggestions were also discussed as to how providers, parents, media literacy and regulation can contribute to the realisation of children's rights to access to information and freedom of expression as well as (media) education. It is now up to the stakeholders involved to translate the ideas from the event into concrete actions.