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Dear Father Christmas, I would like a smartphone

20. December 2022 Published by Raphael Doerr

“Dear Father Christmas, I am Emma and am five years old, and I would like a smartphone, because everyone else at nursery school has one, except me. I am also really kind to my little sister, because she is four and also wants one.” Who can resist such a lovely Christmas wish? Parents certainly can’t, as shown in a recent YouGov survey of parents in Germany on the topic of their children’s media usage, which we are presenting here in brief in this blog article.

99 percent of families with children aged 6 to 13 own cell phones or, to put it another way: Around seven percent of children in Germany aged 6 to 7 own their own smartphone. For children aged 8 to 9 it’s 27 percent, and in the age group from 10 to 11 it’s already 54 percent. The share of smartphone owners among 12- to 13-year-olds is 73 percent. Without a doubt, cell phones have become an important part of everyday life for many people, and using smartphones already begins in childhood. The cell phone has become an indispensable part of our lives – and hence also our children’s lives. Children aged 7 to 13 use their smartphone for 31 minutes a day on average. The smartphone is especially popular among those aged 11 to 13, with an average use of 51 minutes. But children only rarely buy their own smartphone and are given it as a gift, usually by their parents.

But from what age do parents let children have their own smartphone for the first time? A recent survey by the international data and analytics group YouGov has now answered this question. More than 1,007 parents in Germany were surveyed on this from November 9 to 17, 2021 in standardized online interviews. Half of the parents surveyed with children under 18 plan to do this from the age of six to 11, or have already done so (50 percent). 36 percent of the parents give their children their first own smartphone at the age of 12 to 14. And four percent want to give their child their first own smartphone as early as the age of 3 to 5, or have already done so.

Parents always know what’s going on – most of the time.

What is surprising is that children already watch television at the age of two. But that doesn’t matter, because the parents still know what the little ones are watching at that age, since they can’t yet use the remote control. But that changes as they get older.

Among parents with children aged 0 to 2, 82 percent say they have an overview of what content their children consume on television, via streaming portals, on the Internet, or via social media. 84 percent of them also say they have control over what their children watch. Similarly high or, in part, even higher figures on overview and control can be observed among parents with children aged 3 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 14. Parents with children aged 15 to 17 say they rarely have an overview (62 percent) or control (59 percent) of the media content their children consume.

If it’s a smartphone, then please keep an eye on it

Anja Dinhopl, Head of UX research in the field of online safety for children and young people at the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC) in Munich, has been working on this topic for years at Google. Her recommendation: Parents should pay attention to the following three points: child, context and content. In the computer magazine Chip she explains what that means:

  • Child: What content can the individual child already understand?
  • Context: In what context is the media being used – are the parents present, or is the child occupied on its own?
  • Content: What online content is being consumed – is it games or videos, for example?

Digital technologies are not per se good or bad. It depends on how you use them. The expert’s advice: Parents should look for digital parallels to the analog world, and find suitable content or applications together with the children. In other words, go into the forest, for example, look at the flowers and the trees, and then download the matching app and try it out together. If the child generally likes to do puzzles or play cards, matching games on the cell phone are a good choice. It’s especially great when parents can join in and, that way, also do something together digitally.

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