Children and smartphones – a good combination?
It can work well when children discover the digital world together with their parents. Of course, part of this journey is uncertain. Risks lurk around every corner: chain letters spark fear, in-app purchases empty wallets and social networks cause stress. At ‘KiKA’, I get a lot of messages asking me to cover particular topics, to address these risks. One issue that gets requested time and again is the need for online safety. Any risks should always be explained honestly and discussed in advance. Playing through specific situations in a ‘what if…’ format can be useful. Taking the time to go through every stage together will substantially benefit both parent and child. It turns, for example, a scary chain letter into just a bit of junk mail.
I take a critical view of strict bans or threats. Primary school is a great time to teach children about the opportunities digital technology can open up. At this point, parents are (still) the authority on digital devices and the single most important point of contact when it comes to using digital media. So they can show their children that a smartphone can be more than just a concentration-killer, and that we can be more than just clicking consumers.
Children and smartphones can be a good combination if everyone involved views the device as a design tool. I’ll never forget the smiles on the faces of two girls presenting me with their first self-programmed game app. One young audience member sent me a short comedy film created using his silent movie app. At ‘Timster’, I meet young book bloggers who use smartphones to visually present their books and convey their love of reading. A child will gain more self-confidence from designing media than simply consuming it.
But children shouldn’t miss out on offline hobbies, or on playing, having fun and relaxing in the real world. In the digital world, parents should keep an eye out for good apps, games and content for their children. ‘www.seitenstark. de’ is a good place to start. This platform provides an overview of high-quality, child-friendly websites. The website ‘www.spielbar.de’ provides reviews of the latest video games. My favourite guides for apps are ‘www.medienlabyrinth.de’ or ‘www.ene-mene-mobile.de’. The ‘KiKA-Player’ app is a safe video platform.
So if smartphones are used cleverly, they can be a useful tool that opens up a smart, digital playground. That makes it all the more important to ensure children are as effectively safeguarded as possible and get an ideal, well-supervised introduction to the digital world.
My app tips
An exciting treasure hunt! Kids can play games and learn about geometry along the way. The game received the German Computer Games Award in 2018.
A witty puzzle game featuring cute knobbly aliens, guaranteed not to frighten anyone.
A brilliant learning app all about our solar system.
A wonderful free app with a great story touching on the issue of otherness in society.
Every ‘KiKA’ programme is finally available in an app.
Tim Gailus is the presenter of the children’s media magazine ‘Timster’ (‘KiKA’). Every weekend at ‘KiKA’, he presents a particular aspect of the media world and encourages his viewers to use media creatively and confidently. The ‘KiKA’ programme ‘Timster’ was awarded the klicksafe prize in 2017 and nominated for the Grimme-Preis award in 2018. Tim Gailus has been a reading ambassador for the ‘Stiftung Lesen’ (German Reading Foundation) since 2016.
Twitter / Instagram @TimGailus
Children and smartphones – a good combination? Here’s my counter question: Why do children need smartphones, or what can children do more effectively with smartphones than without them? Children are sensitive creatures that absorb everything without a filter, especially in their early years. Giving them unlimited access to smartphones and web-enabled applications at an early age is problematic.
Premature digital or media contact replaces the child’s traditional playtime. This stunts the development of the child’s empathy, creativity and communication, as they’re being drip-fed pre-packaged content and interacting less frequently with others. This hinders the child’s own, free access to the world and limits those essential processes of discovering and experiencing their surroundings via their five senses. Screen time has been proven to adversely affect the development of social skills. Smartphones also impact negatively on the health and education of young people. They suck up moments of idleness that could otherwise be used to discover a wealth of ideas. A child dressing up in a green blanket, hopping around the garden saying ‘I’m a frog!’ may seem simple, but it’s also creative and truly child-like.
The constant availability of digital devices means it’s tempting to use them all the time, because it’s practical and easy – especially in today’s fast-paced world. For many parents, taking a child on an eight-hour transatlantic flight without any films or a tablet might seem like an insurmountable challenge, as tablets are a welcome way to pass the time. But these parents could use this time consciously, drawing, solving puzzles or reading with their child. They might also reawaken their own creative minds.
Parents are the most important point of contact for their children, so it’s essential that they dedicate a lot of time to gradually introducing their little ones to digital media, with carefully planned content. Parents should be trying to introduce their children to digital content as late as possible, carefully selecting the content, establishing clear rules and encouraging moderation. So, just as parents in the real world set out clear rules about what their children are allowed to do and where and when they’re allowed to do it, they should also be in charge when it comes to the digital world. And kids learn how to use digital technology more quickly than we can even imagine, so we don’t need to worry about them practising early on.
It’s important that every parent finds a strategy that works for them and their children, which provides whatever they believe constitutes adequate and age-appropriate access to digital technology and its content. How long a child should grow up without access to digital technology is ultimately up to their parents. The crucial factors are keeping an open dialogue about opportunities and dangers, as well as a certain degree of foresight, which we and our children should be able to maintain in spite of the endless series of screens in our faces.
Philipp Depiereux is a founder and managing director of digital consultancy and start-up incubator ‘etventure’, a columnist at German business magazine ‘BILANZ’ and the founder of non-profit initiative ChangeRider.com, a video and podcast platform that showcases positive stories of innovation, digitalisation, reorganisation and change. As a father of four and a proponent of Waldorf education, he prefers to raise his children with as little influence from digital media and technology as possible.