Whereas children’s television watching used to be the topic of heated debates among parents and educators, today it’s smartphones, computers, and game consoles. At what age should children use digital services – and how long a day? There are no clear answers but guidelines to regulate the use of the Internet by time limits have been suggested.
One thing beforehand: The various devices and digital offers cannot be directly compared to each other. It is equally challenging to regulate the use of the Internet only by the time limit. A teen who checks messages on his smartphone every few minutes may not spend much time online but he will have trouble concentrating on his homework. Another may exceed his time quota because he researched for a presentation or school research paper and sourced content for two hours. And an hour of highly concentrated video games with unsatisfactory output (level not made!) threatens kids much more than if they chat, watch videos or surf on social media platforms for just as long.
So if parents want to limit their use of the Internet, they should take into account how their children spend the time on the Net, in front of the game console and on the smartphone. It’s not just about “How long?”, but also “what for?” and “with what?”
The “Schau hin!” initiative (Look!), which is backed by, among others, the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs and the public broadcasters, recommends time limits for children for the Internet in the following sliding scale:
However, the organization emphasizes that time limits are insufficient for the Internet, and for games the inclusion of age ratings alone is not enough. Parents should also be interested in what they use the children’s console, PC, and mobile phone for – talk to them and play games together or watch internet videos.
For a young child, the first step is to introduce them to digital devices and media. The EU initiative “Clicksafe” has therefore divided the age groups differently than “Look!”:
In the first three years of life, children experience their environment in a variety of ways, developing their senses. They can also gain initial experience with computers, tablets or smartphones. Tap on keyboard and screen, view images, communicate with others via webcam or listen to music – in all these activities and interactions, the attention span of the child should not be exceeded. Five minutes are usually enough. Be aware: Sudden loud noises can frighten small children.
Children are slowly developing their first independence in the period until school enrollment and want to explore things. As they observe parents and siblings on the computer, smartphone, and tablet, they are also interested in these devices. The first steps on websites with simple game offers, pictures and films should be accompanied by the parents. Only allow access to child-friendly and previously selected pages via filter settings. Useful stuff only and according to “Clicksafe”: around 20 minutes and not necessarily daily.
In elementary school age from 7 to 10 years, Internet and digital devices for most children are becoming more interesting; they are increasingly using the devices independently. Since 2017, the US has stipulated for social networks that children and adolescents under the age of 13 can only set up an account there with the consent of their parents. (See Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act COPPA) How effectively this can be controlled is yet to be seen, it’s pretty easy to sign up and claim you are over 13, who’s really checking?
It is advisable that parents continue to follow the children’s online behavior – at least occasionally. Filter settings are extremely useful at this age. “Clicksafe” recommends a daily usage time of 30 to 45 minutes. The time limit for the Internet should not be completely rigid, since primary school children through school, sports club and other activities do not have the same amount of free time every day. By independently dividing the online time they also learn more responsibility.
Shortly before puberty, children want to be more independent, the influence of the circle of friends increases. Internet and mobile phone use should be further regulated – with a simultaneous increase in personal responsibility. At this age, a free weekly budget is much more useful than a daily fixed usage time. Parents should take into account that the Internet is now increasingly being used for school. The importance of mobile Internet use is increasing and should be regulated by explicit agreements, including in terms of costs, they need to realize this stuff isn’t really free. Set usage at approximately 60 minutes per day, up to 12 hours per week.
Young people are better acquainted with internet usage than their parents. In terms of data protection and copyright or personal rights, however, they are generally still very unaware, their parents should talk to them about these topics. Guidelines for Internet use over time are difficult to set for this age group. The decisive factor is the respective personal situation. Parents should keep an eye on whether there is enough time for school and hobbies such as sports in addition to the use of media – they should also try and recognize excessive online use. In such cases, an Internet time limit should also be considered.
In many routers can set a limitation of the online time. This type of parental control is usually set up according to access profiles. Specific users or devices are then each assigned an access profile and thus a time limit.
The eBlocker Family product offers a solution with individual White- and Blacklists Parental Controls. You can configure the device to control time limits for any member of your family and you can also block access to sites not family friendly.
In addition to access controls, to effectively protect your families privacy on the web, you also need to block all tracking services, ad servers, and data collectors. The smart solution is the eBlocker. The device hides your IP address, stops data collectors and blocks advertising – conveniently for all Internet devices on your home network and with no complicated software installation.