How Corona affects media use among children and young people - and what you can do about it
Homework on the tablet, game consoles instead of sports and social contacts via video chat - the Corona crisis has caused a digital shift in many areas of life and thoroughly turned our analogue lives upside down. This is particularly noticeable among younger people: Since the beginning of the pandemic in the early 2020s, the amount of time children and young people spend using media has increased almost alarmingly, according to studies by the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, the Media Education Research Association Southwest and the health insurance company DAK Gesundheit, among others.
Media use increases many times over
Home offices, digital conferences and homeschooling have become an integral part of our new Corona everyday life. Unsurprisingly, work-oriented media use has increased accordingly since the beginning of last year. But even away from the learning and working environment, strong changes in consumer behaviour can be observed, especially among children and young people: Since the first lockdown in April 2020, media use among 10- to 17-year-olds has increased by more than 75 per cent. During the week, children and adolescents use their screen devices for around five and a half hours per day, and at weekends it is even well over seven hours - not counting homeschooling and homework. They spend a large part of their free time with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, social networks and messaging services, online games and television. Even for learning, children and young people almost exclusively use smartphones and laptops, online tutorials and chat programmes.
How much is too much
Corona restrictions such as online classes, which make a "normal" life hardly possible at the moment, inevitably bring about a change in usage behaviour. But excessive consumption and the lack of analogue compensation have a negative effect on the body and psyche, especially in younger people: Difficulty concentrating, listlessness and listlessness, social isolation, lack of exercise, dissatisfaction or tension can be the consequences. And the longer the exceptional situation lasts, the higher the danger of a media-related addiction. This not only puts a strain on children, but also on parents.
What you can do
Despite the current situation, there are some tips and tricks you can use to regulate and keep an eye on your children's media consumption during Corona time, at least in their free time. We have summarised the most important points for you.
1. Find common rules and set limits
First of all, set a time frame for your children's leisure time media use.
- a maximum of 45 minutes daily for children aged seven to ten, the younger ones a maximum of 5 to 20 minutes under supervision
- a maximum of 60 minutes daily for 11- to 13-year-olds
- a maximum of 90 minutes daily for 14 and older
You can now set rules for this framework: What may be consumed at what times and for how long? Simple rules like "no mobile phone at dinner" or "watch TV only after homework" that you had before should remain in place during the Corona crisis to maintain continuity. If you want, you can even set down these rules in a "digital etiquette" or a written contract.
Also, "media vouchers" - vouchers for a certain amount of time on a certain device - are a nice, playful way to allow your child to manage their own time. Be sure to involve your child in this process and try to remain mentally flexible. Rules can be adapted to the daily routine if they do not yet work well, and exceptions are also fine if they remain within the framework. However, you should not compromise on the issue of safety on the Internet. For each of your children's devices and programmes, take care of appropriate ad blockers, good virus protection, possible block lists and violence filters.
2. The older the better
In principle, you should not acquire your own devices for your children too early. It is recommended to use a computer only from the age of twelve and a smartphone at the earliest from the fifth grade.
3. Stay in touch
Communication is key. Engage in open conversation and get regular updates from your children. Find out about all the games, apps and social media channels that are being used to develop an understanding of your children's media use. For example, a media diary in which you write down when which device is used for which purposes can help.
4. Create a common knowledge base
Children have a different understanding of their environment than adults. Therefore, it is important to explain to them what your rules and limits are about and why they are meaningful and important. Just as you do not let your child go to school or to the playground alone until he or she knows the way and the dangers, your child should also not be allowed to use media and digital content until he or she has been sufficiently educated. Depending on the age, it is also useful to talk about things like false identities, data protection, glorification of violence, "fake news" and "hate speech".
5. Involve yourself
Remember: You are the adult, you are the role model, and you set the example for your children. This makes it all the more important for you to be aware of how you use the media. Agree on conscious media use times for yourself as well and consider which points of your daily routine can possibly be arranged together with that of your child. For example, you can extend the rule "no mobile phones at the dinner table" to everyone in your household.
6. Plan breaks
Children need analogue breaks to process media experiences. Therefore, for example, there should be a longer break between homework on the screen or video conferencing and leisure use. Just like adults, children should ideally not sit in front of a screen for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time, including homeschooling. Of course, you have to follow the school's guidelines for online classes, as every school handles break times differently. Since children often don't feel the need to take breaks, sometimes you have to lovingly "force" them to do so. Even a ten-minute time-out together in the fresh air can work wonders. In between, you can also schedule individual completely use-free days for the whole family.
7. Offer analogue alternatives
We live in a time of digital overstimulation. This makes it all the more important to show children analogue alternatives. Studies show that children and adolescents often spend an excessive amount of time in front of the screen due to boredom and lack of alternatives. Show your children that there is also a world beyond the media to discover. How about handicrafts, cooking, a card or board game, a puzzle or sports activities in the fresh air? You can benefit doubly from this, because analogue breaks can not only be good for your children, but also for yourself.
8. Take warning signals seriously
Last but not least: If you notice that your child is often listless, has mood swings, withdraws or has a lack of concentration, these warning signals should be taken seriously, because digital overstimulation often carries the risk of a media-related addiction. In case of symptoms such as increasing loss of control over media consumption, prioritisation of media and a continuation of this behaviour despite negative consequences, you should not hesitate to seek professional help.
by Esther Marake