Media education: How children get in shape with telephones and mobile phones

“Hello, hello?” The little ones are still chattering and holding the building block to their ear, while the older ones are holding the ringing, flashing toy mobile phone. And most of all, of course, a real phone. From a very early age, children are fascinated by the fact that you can speak into a box and hear another person. And they observe in the adults: Such a mobile phone must be something incredibly important – the adults almost never put it down.

Even small children therefore often show a little shyness when it comes to ringing the bell. But despite the fact that all this is a matter of course, it is advisable to practice a few rules of order, especially with a view to more and more children having their own smartphone already in elementary school.

“Children should be introduced to calling step by step,” advises media educator Iren Schulz from “See! What your child does with Media”. The first step could be: The child is allowed to call the parents when the doorbell rings. The next skill: to call yourself, for example the saved number of the grandparents. Preschool is usually a good time to allow children to pick up the phone themselves or press the handset icon when making a call.

Report with or without name? experts disagree

Do they then have to report by name? “I’m unsure myself,” Schulz admits. For Joachim Auer, who as a business coach, among other things, practices how to use the phone correctly with young interns, the answer is clear: “Later in professional life, it is customary to report with your full name.” The children can therefore learn it.

The media educator emphasizes that the more children are allowed to use mobile phones and telephones, the more important it is to have clear rules. That mother’s work mobile is taboo for them, or that they only answer if the name of the caller can be recognised. And hang up when a stranger is on the line. “The decisive question is always what the children reveal,” says Iren Schulz: “So it must be made very clear that no images may be sent to strangers.”

Raising awareness of this is all the more important because images and videos have been used much more naturally in daily communication since the corona pandemic: Grandma was spoken to via Zoom, and there was a photo of the newborn cousin every day in Whatsapp family group.

A number of dangers are hardly predictable

Even small children are very skilled at handling the devices. “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that they do not yet have an overview of the possibilities and dangers,” the media educator points out and recommends a very clear comparison for a child-friendly clarification: “We don’t just open the apartment door to any stranger.”

An understanding of the risks is all the more important because children often already hold their own smartphone by primary school age. A third of eight-to-nine-year-olds have their own device, and among ten to eleven-year-olds the proportion is 75 percent, according to a study by the Bitkom industry organization in 2019.

It’s no longer just about making calls: people are playing games, chatting, streaming. Especially in the beginning, Iren Schulz recommends youth protection apps to limit the functions of the device to make it childproof. “Privacy options should also be used restrictively.”

Contact with strangers is the biggest risk

She sees the greatest danger in children being contacted directly by strangers without the parents discovering it, for example via game chat. Almost a quarter of all children and young people between the ages of eight and 18 have already been asked to book an appointment online by adults, according to a study commissioned by the state media authority of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2021.

“However, some chain letters distributed as voice messages via messenger apps also frighten children,” says Schulz. And last but not least, it is important to learn how to deal with ad calls – or, best of all, stop them immediately.

Stay in the conversation

Banning everything to protect the children is not a solution, the media educator believes: “The older the children are, the easier it is to do without technical restrictions. The children are increasingly able to bypass them anyway.” It is much more important to establish clear and transparent rules and routines from the start, to stay in touch, to take an interest in the games and apps that the children use – and above all, to be a role model yourself.

Instead of calling, many young people prefer to communicate via messenger services such as Whatsapp – and then go to the trouble when they have to talk on the phone again in training or at work, notes business coach Joachim Auer. He has the impression that many young people find it difficult to “build a relationship on the phone”.

In a professional context, however, it is often precisely this that is decisive: “Only those who win over their interlocutor remain positive in their memory. And that’s why they might get the coveted order, a lower price, or be able to talk about a complaint with profit.” That’s why Auer also practices the art of small talk in his courses: “Many young people can’t do it anymore. “

Practice small talk over dinner

You can very easily practice this at home with the family – using the same method as the media educator recommends: “It is always important to keep in touch,” says Auer: “Parents and children can, for example, talk about things at dinner. table in the evening, they experienced beautiful and positive things during the day.”

And without constantly looking at your mobile phone. For the correct handling of mobile phones and telephones also includes the possibility of leaving them where they are when it is not appropriate – in the metro, in restaurants and above all in personal conversations. However, this will only work if the parents also stick to it.

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