What do you mean by technological debt

Cell phones in everyday life for children and young people


The aim of this article is to offer information and considerations on a new medium - the mobile phone - that can help educational actors to orientate themselves in our modern media world. Appropriate pedagogical or educational action, according to the leading assumption of this article, requires sufficient personal knowledge and skills, on the one hand in technical terms (this includes knowledge and skills in relation to the media), and on the other hand in pedagogical and didactic terms (this includes Abilities to design suitable teaching and learning situations). However, the majority of pedagogical specialists do not yet have any training or further education in media education. Although media education has been introduced as a new sub-discipline of academic education in some universities and technical colleges in the past few decades, a wide variety of institutions and organizations are now dedicated to the task of practically promoting media skills, but by firmly anchoring media education in all areas we are still a long way from education. [1] The social need is becoming more and more obvious, as this publication and the lecture series on which it is based shows.

In addition to teachers and other educational professionals, parents are primarily responsible for media education. They acquire the relevant knowledge mainly informally, i.e. they access information from a wide variety of sources. In addition to discussions and information events, a wide variety of media play an important role, such as magazines, television programs, websites, books, etc. This book section is understood as such an information offer. It offers a media-pedagogically framed insight into the subject area of ​​cell phones. The underlying pedagogical program can be described as "accepting media pedagogy". [2] This means that the media activity of children and adolescents is accepted in principle, i.e. not suspected from the outset of being problematic, pathological, depraved, stupid or the like. What children and young people do with the media usually has to do with working on their identity. It is about identification, demarcation, belonging and recognition, but also dealing with desires, fears, dreams, feelings etc. in a phase of life in which the personality or identity is worked particularly intensively. When boys play violent computer games, for example, it is not to annoy the adults, but because they are looking for something in the games (and presumably also find) that concerns them. In this example, it doesn't have to be the issue of violence, it can also be about competition (competing) or about social affiliation (friends also play it) or about dealing with one's own gender role. Accepting media pedagogy therefore means first of all to meet the media behavior of children and young people without prejudice, to be interested in this behavior and its subjective as well as socializing significance and to have or acquire basic knowledge of the media, modes of use and contexts of use. However, since competent and socially responsible media action (often) does not arise on its own on the part of adolescents, acceptance in principle does not mean renouncing pedagogical accompaniment, suggestion, support and criticism. But anyone who wants to provide educational support, stimulate, support or enter into a critical discourse with adolescents via the media should know what they are talking about.

Mobile phone - triumphant advance of a new medium

Nowadays it is no longer necessary to explain that a cell phone [3] is a portable phone that can be used to make calls from anywhere, provided a corresponding radio network is available. In the meantime, this technical expansion of our communication options has become a matter of course for us, and we have almost forgotten that we used to go to telephone booths 20 years ago when we wanted to call someone while on the move. However, this functional description (being able to make mobile phone calls) no longer does justice to the multifunctionality of today's devices, and if cell phones were just phones, then they would certainly not be as popular and widespread as they are with children and young people. Cell phones are a good example of how quickly and comprehensively technical media and thus everyday media life can change in just a few years. The main reason for the change to an everyday medium was the introduction of fully digital cellular networks since 1992 (so-called D-Netz), because this paved the way for sending and receiving SMS and MMS (multimedia messages) and the development of cell phones towards a mobile multifunctional device (with integrated camera, Bluetooth, etc.).

There is currently a trend towards smartphones which, in terms of operation, are more geared towards other applications than mobile telephony and on which - as with computers - additional applications (so-called apps) can be installed. In a few years' time, we will probably hardly have classic cell phones anymore, but almost exclusively smartphones. As a result, cell phones are increasingly becoming all-in-one devices that combine a large number of functions. The mobile phone is thus a prime example of media convergence in the digital age: We are experiencing an increasing integration of telecommunication and multimedia functions on the same technical basis, i.e. a growing together of media that existed separately in analog times. The technical development dynamics in the mobile phone sector is also reflected in an average ownership period of only 18 to 24 months in Germany, which is very short compared to other media and technical devices (and should be viewed critically from a sustainability perspective).

In the following, some basic data on cell phone ownership and use by children and then by young people will be presented, which will give a first impression of the importance of this new medium for adolescents. In particular, data from the KIM and JIM studies of the Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest, which are based on representative surveys and are available free of charge on the Internet, are used. [4] Then I will address the question of what role the cell phone plays in the everyday life of adolescents.

Cell phone possession and use by children

Cell phone ownership by 6 to 13 year olds has increased significantly over the past ten years (see Fig. 1):

Fig. 1: Development of mobile phone ownership among 6 to 13 year olds (in percent)

Source: Own compilation based on the KIM studies from 2000 to 2010 [5]

More than half of the children now have their own cell phone, so the equipment has reached a considerable extent. There are clear differences depending on the age of the children. While only 14% of 6- to 7-year-olds have their own mobile phone, the figure is 71% for 10- to 11-year-olds and even 90% for 12- to 13-year-olds. That is, the biggest jump takes place between the age group 8/9 years (33%) and 10/11 years (71%). From the age of 10, the cell phone will increasingly become the norm. [6] In contrast, there are no notable differences by gender, that is, boys and girls are equally equipped with their own cell phones. [7]

The cell phone is one of the personal media for which one's own device is more or less a prerequisite for using it: 54% of children have a cell phone, 52% have their own cell phone - availability and ownership therefore largely coincide. Using the cell phone is not a particularly important leisure activity. Only 7% of 6- to 13-year-olds state “using the mobile phone” as one of their three favorite activities in their free time. Incidentally, the favorite leisure activities in this age group are “meeting friends” (52%) and “playing outside” (43%), followed by “watching TV” (32%). [8]

The technical equipment of cell phones is getting better and better, which means that more and more cell phones offer additional functionalities such as cameras, Bluetooth or MP3 players. Between 2008 and 2010, the proportion of children with their own mobile phone only increased by 2%, but the equipment of the devices has improved significantly over the same period (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Technical equipment of children's cell phones in 2008 and 2010 - please click on the image to enlarge it

Source: MPFS 2010, p. 53

Many functions of the devices only play a subordinate role in the everyday life of 6 to 13 year olds. The most frequently used functions are texting and calling: 38% of children receive text messages daily or almost every day, and a further 42% one or more times a week. 33% send SMS (almost) every day, a further 43% one or more times a week. When it comes to the telephone function, the variant of being called is more important than that of calling: 33% of the children state that their parents call them (almost) every day, “only” 23% call their parents (almost) every day. 30% of the children are called by other people (almost) every day, 26% call others themselves (almost) every day. [9] The use of mobile phones for play (10% daily or almost daily, 28% once or several times a week) as well as for photography or filming (6% daily / almost daily, 27% once or several times) is also very important for children per week).

There is a clear change in the use of mobile phones with age. Communication via SMS increases significantly with age; it is the most common form of cell phone communication among 12 and 13 year olds. For children under 10 years of age, communication with their parents dominates, from 10 years of age, however, their peers become more and more important. Nonetheless, family communication remains a central function of cell phone use even for older children.

The fact that children mostly get their first cell phone from their parents also fits in with these results. This is usually justified with the better mutual accessibility: Children should be able to reach their parents when they are on the go, on the other hand, parents want to be able to reach the children. In this respect, there also seems to be a security issue that I will come back to below.

Cell phone possession and use among adolescents

With increasing age, the cell phone becomes a natural part of everyday media life. In principle, it can be assumed that young people are fully equipped, because 96% of 12 to 19 year olds have their own cell phone. The strongest surge occurred between 1998 and 2004, because within these six years the proportion of young cell phone owners rose from 8% to 90% (see Fig. 3).


Fig. 3: Development of mobile phone ownership among 12 to 19 year olds (in percent)

Source: Own compilation based on the JIM studies 1998-2011

There are currently hardly any differences according to age, gender or the type of school attended. It is noteworthy that girls (98%) currently have a cell phone somewhat more often than boys (94%). However, boys are ahead of girls when it comes to equipping them with smartphones (27% to 22%). [10] 68% of young people use their cell phones with a prepaid card, but the older the young people are, the greater the proportion with their own contract (51% of the 18 to 19 year olds). A look at the media equipment of the adolescents [11] shows that the mobile phone is in first place, followed by MP3 player (82%), computer / laptop (78%), radio (64%), digital camera (53%) and televisions (52%).

One can say that the cell phone becomes a constant companion in adolescence. It is the medium with the highest frequency of use, but the duration of use is relatively short. The predominantly used functions (such as sending SMS) do not require a lot of time, but are often used several times a day.

Importance of Cell Phones for Adolescents

The importance of media results from the socially and culturally framed examination of the users with the respective technical possibilities of the devices and programs. Social and cultural framing means that media use is embedded in social-cultural conditions, relationships and processes, which in turn are associated with certain expectations, attitudes, preferences, etc. Framing does not mean that media use is predetermined or determined by the social or cultural context, but the ways of using media and the media preferences of adolescents naturally arise in the context of (i.e. in discussions with) family, friends and peers.

In modern, experience-oriented societies, the relationship between people and goods and services has changed in such a way that the focus is no longer on the use value, but rather on the (expected) experience value, which is based on aesthetic and symbolic qualities. This development can also be seen in the mobile phone sector, where, for example, the image of certain brands or device types plays a major role in the acquisition and presentation to acquaintances. The technical data (e.g. storage capacity or resolution of the integrated camera), the equipment features (e.g. Bluetooth, GPS, MP3 player) or the applications installed on newer smartphones often have more of a symbolic value and do not mean that they are used regularly. This shift towards the aesthetic-symbolic side of things can be viewed critically because it contributes to the fact that many “superfluous” or “useless” things are bought and, overall, the project of the good life is linked to consumption. However, this applies to adults at least as much as it does to children and adolescents, and those who (secretly) drink wine themselves do not appear credible when they (publicly) preach water. [12] Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that the useless, superfluous and aesthetic refer to the area of ​​culture or the fact that the human being is a cultural being and cannot be limited to the necessary and instrumental. In any case, we can assume that when asked about the importance of media, the (everyday) cultural functions are usually more interesting and relevant than the purely instrumental aspects.

In the following overview of possible cell phone functions for adolescents, both instrumental and cultural-symbolic aspects are taken into account. The presentation is based on Nicola Döring (2006), but I do not take over all the dimensions of meaning worked out in her synopsis of research results, because some of them do not seem very clear to me.

Safety function: This aspect has already been addressed above. Many parents give their children a mobile phone so that they can request help or be available when they are on the move. However, this consideration can also lead to excessive control or trigger unfounded fears if the children cannot be reached, e.g. for technical reasons. There are companies that try to do (dubious) business with parents' security needs. For example, parents are offered the tracking service TrackYourKid [13], with the help of which the whereabouts of the child (or the corresponding cell phone) can be queried. What is described on the provider's website as a “gentle and safe control option” is in fact an ethically and educationally questionable (unnoticed) control: “With TrackYourKid you can query the whereabouts of your child! TrackYourKid locates your child's cell phone and tells you where it is. Cell phone location via TrackYourKid offers a whole new kind of security ”. [14] The location of a cell phone number requires that the device is activated by the respective cell phone operator by sending a corresponding SMS. To do this, the device must be "available" to the applicant. On the TrackYourKid website, parents are advised to apply for activation of the mobile phone to be located themselves (and without consulting the children). Such a practice is simply illegal for adults. The question of the appropriate relationship between control (in the name of "security") and trust must always be carefully weighed, including when dealing with (your own) children. It should also be borne in mind that 100% security cannot be achieved even with comprehensive controls, and that in many cases the security promised is only an apparent one. The location offered by TrackYourKid, for example, does not use the Global Positioning System (GPS), but the cellular network itself, so that the location accuracy is only around 250 meters.

Organizational function: Today, children and young people are also asked to plan their time and appointments (e.g. club and other leisure activities), to coordinate everyday life with family or friends, or to make short-term agreements.The mobile phone allows flexible planning and coordination (especially via SMS), which also means that among friends and peers, fixed and long-term appointments and meeting points are often dispensed with in favor of timely arrangements or that previous arrangements are made again via mobile phone confirmed or changed or canceled spontaneously. Such short-term changes can on the one hand be annoying if, for example, appointments are canceled at the last minute, but on the other hand they can also help avoid annoyance or concern, e.g. if a person waiting can be informed of a bus or train delay by SMS or phone call.

Relationship function: Especially for young people, the cell phone with the stored contact data of all important people has become the "control center of their social network". [15] The cell phone is primarily used to maintain and strengthen existing relationships, not so much to establish new contacts. However, new contacts are initially continued via SMS, because for most of them this form of communication forms a lower threshold than a phone call. Even within existing relationships, many adolescents find it easier to openly express their feelings in written SMS communication. Fearful or shy adolescents in particular indicate that they can express themselves more honestly via SMS. SMS communication is characterized by the high frequency of communication and the habit of answering incoming short messages immediately. The relationship function is, on the one hand, about continuing contacts over a distance (e.g. after school) and e.g. maintaining group cohesion among friends. On the other hand, cell phone communication (especially via SMS) is also suitable for reinforcing relationships by (simpler) expressing feelings or "sending small digital gifts such as logos, photos, poems or jokes" [16]. Face-to-face communication with friends and acquaintances is not replaced by mobile phone communication, but rather continued, supplemented and, if necessary, even deepened.

Identity function: For children from around 10 years of age, the mobile phone becomes a symbol that can be used to demonstrate to the outside world that they are growing up or growing up. This includes first of all owning the device itself as well as all forms of individual appropriation and demonstration in the group, e.g. the selection and playing of personal ring tones or the decoration with tags, stickers or the like. Other forms of personalization include, for example, your own background images, the integration of photos in the digital address book, the creation of your own photo albums and music lists or - with newer mobile phones - the installation of special apps. The self-portrayal with the mobile phone affects both the appearance in public (street, tram, bus, etc.) as well as in the more private circle of friends and acquaintances. At the same time, the cell phone is a particularly personal medium that allows adolescents to maintain (first) autonomous contacts with the opposite sex that are not controlled by their parents. The mobile phone can therefore support the process of finding or constructing an identity through the development and maintenance of one's own relationships as well as the gradual detachment from parental home. It can also be used during puberty to test boundaries and break taboos. In doing so, limits to socially problematic or criminal behaviors that challenge educational (or other) interventions can also be crossed.

Entertainment function: Since the cell phone is more or less a constant companion for adolescents from the age of 10, certain cell phone functions are also used to pass the time and for entertainment. The SMS communication can also take over this function, e.g. if there are waiting times to be bridged. Mobile games or music stored on the mobile phone are also used for entertainment, especially since they are still available when the credit on the prepaid card has been used up. With the newer smartphones, the entertainment options are expanded even further thanks to mobile Internet access and the possibility of searching for, installing and testing new applications. But they also increase the risk of access to media content that is not age-appropriate (see below).

Information function: Various information offers can also be called up via the mobile phone, e.g. messaging services via SMS. Here, too, the newer smartphones with Internet access open up many new possibilities. So far, this function has only been used to a relatively limited extent by children and young people. However, it is likely to gain importance in this age group in the future as well. And last but not least, it is these possibilities that are currently being taken up in projects and discussions on mobile learning or micro-learning, in which the aim is to use cell phones (and other mobile devices) to support learning processes.

Empowerment function: The term empowerment is mainly used in socio-educational contexts to denote a central objective of social work, namely the strengthening of disadvantaged groups and individuals. An important aspect here is to enable democratic participation and participation in social and cultural life, e.g. by removing barriers to access. The new, digital media are opening up various new opportunities here. The SMS function of the cell phone, for example, makes it easier for deaf children and adolescents not only to contact relatives independently, but also to participate in peer-to-peer communication. Advice centers, self-help groups or other contact persons can also be easily reached via mobile phone and, if desired, anonymously. In the case of cell phones with internet access, the potential for empowerment increases significantly.

Risks and Problems

The risks of traditional and telephoning were manageable. Mainly you had to make sure that it didn't get too expensive, especially for long-distance calls. If you kept to simple rules like “keep it short” and “don't make unnecessary phone calls”, then the risk of a high phone bill at the end of the month was low. Until the second half of the 1990s, the situation was similar with mobile telephony, that is, it was possible to fall back on such well-known patterns and rules in order to minimize the cost risk. In the meantime, the issue of costs has become much more complex and complicated due to a large number of possible tariffs, the extended functions of cell phones (e.g. SMS, MMS, uploading new ring tones) and above all mobile Internet access.

Multifunctionality is also associated with other new risks that did not play a role in simple (monofunctional) telephones. In this context, a distinction is usually made between four risk areas:

  • Content (inadmissible or unsuitable content for minors)
  • Contact (risky contacts)
  • Commerce (cost risks)
  • Privacy (data protection, privacy).

Problem area content

For technical media, a basic distinction can be made between two intermediary services. On the one hand, media can spread information over spatial distances, as is the case, for example, with radio or telephones, on the other hand, media can convey information over time by storing it. Some media have both properties. From the point of view of media users, this means that technical media expand our possibilities of access to and appropriation of information of all kinds in terms of space and / or time. In principle, this also applies to information or content that is not yet suitable for minors, and also to content that is ethically questionable or prohibited by law. Such content (e.g. violent or pornographic images or films) can also be distributed or accessed via mobile phones. The distribution of such content is regulated and restricted by legal provisions in the Youth Protection Act, in the State Treaty on Youth Media Protection and in the Criminal Code. In the case of youth media protection, it is primarily a question of restricting the distribution and sales opportunities in the interest of adolescents. Anyone who makes content that has not been approved for his / her age group available to someone (e.g. sells) is liable to prosecution; adolescents who consume such content are not liable to prosecution.

As far as the possible risk is concerned, a distinction should be made between children and adolescents. The fact that young people are interested in topics such as sexuality and violence in a new way from puberty onwards is neither new nor surprising, and it is just as normal that they also use the media to deal with these topics. This cannot be avoided or prevented, and it does not seem to me to be necessary to devote excessive pedagogical and educational efforts to denying young people access to such content under all circumstances. [17] It should be more important to take these topics and interests pedagogically seriously and not leave the adolescents alone or not just leave these topics to the media.

The fact that adolescents are increasingly interested in adult content during puberty is therefore not a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is that with the digital and networked media, this increasingly attractive content is becoming much more easily accessible and distributed for adults, as well as ethically very questionable or prohibited content (e.g. so-called snuff videos or child pornography). It is undisputed that such content can be classified as problematic in various respects and that a society must take countermeasures here. However, it is controversial which measures are suitable given the particularities of digital and networked media. In 2009, for example, the federal government took an initiative to block websites on which child pornography is distributed. However, this initiative led to massive criticism from lawyers, IT providers, civil rights activists and others who instead demanded the deletion of such content and better international cooperation to prosecute the perpetrators. [18]

Most young people are aware that content that is harmful to young people, such as violent or pornographic films, can (can) be exchanged with the mobile phone. According to the latest JIM study, 20% of those questioned state that they knew that this happened among friends or acquaintances.

“Four percent were themselves affected, boys more than girls. In particular, the middle age groups and young people with less formal education received this content more often. Overall, however, it can be said that this problem has decreased significantly. Compared to the 2009 JIM study, the proportion of those directly affected has roughly halved ”. [19]

A special case is the so-called happy slapping, in which cell phones are used to film scuffles or fights, whereby the majority of the situations do not seem to be posed situations. [20] The problem with this is not only the use of violence, but the fact that the film recording is not infrequently used for further humiliation of the victim (bullying). It is a problem of user behavior that makes it clear that the socially responsible use of the media has now become a particularly important part of social learning.

Contact problem area

The contact problem area can be seen as the downside of the media-related expansion of contact and communication options. Children and adolescents can come into contact with sexually motivated adults via mobile phones (e.g. mobile chat services) or they can be threatened or harassed (up to stalking) via the mobile phone. They must be made aware of these risks of reckless user behavior. Adolescents have always had to learn not to carelessly trust strangers. This learning and educational task has expanded in the age of mobile phones and other new media because there are new contact forums and communication channels that also bring new risks in this regard. On the other hand, children and young people are sometimes also active as perpetrators who threaten, harass or otherwise harm others.

Commerce problem area

Contracts with mobile phone providers can only be concluded by adults, insofar as adults (usually the parents) are ultimately responsible for the costs of using mobile phones by children. Nevertheless, some young people bear some or all of their running mobile phone costs themselves. [21] Overall, adolescents seem to have cell phone costs under control: “Only four percent of cell phone owners state that they have borrowed money or incurred debts because of the cell phone. In the vast majority of cases, the parents helped out. The very small proportion of those who have already had to go into debt has declined over the past few years ”. [22] Nevertheless, the cost risk should not be underestimated. Depending on the contract, high mobile communication costs can arise if certain additional services (e.g. ringtone subscription, internet use, international calls) are used, the costs of which the adolescents are not aware of. Fraudulent offers can also contribute to this, for example when flirting text messages are sent that are intended to encourage you to call back a chargeable number. Prepaid cards, which are mainly used by younger cell phone users (or their parents), offer better cost control. According to the latest JIM study, 81% of 12 to 13 year olds use a prepaid cell phone, 77% of 14 to 15 year olds, 67% of 16 to 17 year olds and 49% of 18 to 19 year olds. [23] The mobile phones themselves are also a cost factor. The new smartphones in particular are associated with high acquisition costs (sometimes 500 euros or more), which are either incurred once or - usually with a surcharge - allocated to the monthly contract costs.

Problem area privacy

The extended functions of the mobile phone change the character of the communication without the users always being aware of this. Telephoning can initially be assigned to the area of ​​interpersonal communication, that is, individuals communicate with one another in real time via the telephone. What is spoken in the process does not normally reach a wider public. It is one of the unwritten rules of telephoning that you ask the person you are speaking to for permission before you switch on the external loudspeaker on the phone so that others in the room can overhear. In this respect, the telephone - including the mobile telephone - is initially a very private or personal communication medium. When it comes to cell phones, however, the boundaries between private and public communication and also between interpersonal and mass media communication are blurring. If you take a photo with your mobile phone and send it to friends via MMS or post it on Facebook or on a photo sharing platform on the Internet, then that's not the same as having a photo album with paper prints at a family celebration or circulating delighting loved ones with a private slide show. Ultimately, you no longer have any control over a photo file that you have passed on or even put online. Cell phone and Internet users (and not just the younger ones) are often not fully aware of the fact that it is easy to cross the line between private and public communication when it comes to cell phone communication, and that one is in a public space on the Internet not that you leave traces that are visible to others even if you are not actively communicating, but just downloading information from the Internet, for example. The user of digital and networked media is no longer invisible and anonymous in the same way as the user of traditional mass media (e.g. television).

There is therefore a risk that private texts, images or videos will be made public, be it through carelessness or carelessness on the part of the users themselves, be it through others to whom this content has been transmitted - possibly confidential - or who it has obtained in another way to have. Since many have their cell phones with them all the time, they can take photos or videos in almost any situation and forward them to others or make them public on the Internet in no time at all. In this respect, it has become very easy with the mobile phone to make private information public, even without the knowledge or against the will of others involved. The line from harmless fun to humiliating exposure, bullying and blackmail can be crossed very quickly.

However, the problem area of ​​privacy also includes the risk that companies collect (unnoticed) private data from cell phone users, for example by using GPS tracking to save movement profiles or reading out addresses and other personal data that are stored in the cell phone. Especially when downloading apps on current smartphones, the provider often has to be granted extensive access rights to such data before installation. So far there seems to be hardly any awareness of the problem, although it does not seem clear to what extent this practice is compatible with the personal right to informational self-determination [24].

Pedagogical outlook

Cell Phones and Media Education

The new media conditions of communication and interaction in the age of the Internet and digital media are a more or less great learning and educational challenge for everyone. With regard to the problem areas outlined above, it should be noted that the possible risks of media communication for the users of digital media are usually not immediately visible, but rather depend on knowledge in a similar way as Ulrich Beck does for the risks and side effects of goods production in modern (resp. postmodern) societies. [25] The question then is how and where children and young people acquire the necessary knowledge about the risks associated with the use of new media such as the cell phone so that they are not carelessly victims. If the risks are predominantly hidden, the transfer of relevant risk knowledge is indispensable; incidental knowledge acquisition through trial and error is not sufficient here. The extent to which children and adolescents exchange information about the risks of using new media in the sense of peer education has not yet been investigated in more detail, as far as I know, but it can be assumed that some negative experiences (e.g. high costs due to an accidentally taken out subscription) in the Freundes - and get around to acquaintances, while other experiences (e.g. being a victim of bullying or blackmail) are rarely discussed.

Given the changed technological conditions with the extremely low threshold for the creation and media dissemination of one's own content and messages, it is on the other hand all the more important that the technologies are used in a socially responsible manner. When it comes to invading privacy, for example, children and young people are not only potential victims, but also potential perpetrators. Dealing with the media is becoming an increasingly important part of social learning and social education as a whole, and here too the question arises of how and where children and young people learn to use the new media in a socially responsible manner, i.e. in a Manner that respects, for example, the privacy and personal rights of others.

This outlines current tasks in media education and media pedagogy. The task and objective of media education can by no means be limited to familiarizing adolescents with the possible risks of media use. Rather, it is educationally about supporting people in acquiring the knowledge, skills and abilities they need in order to be able to participate in social life, in which digital media technologies are woven in a variety of ways, in a self-determined and socially responsible manner. So it is about personality development, in the case of media education concretized as the promotion of comprehensive media competence and media education.

In relation to this task, we encounter the problem mentioned at the beginning that parents and educational professionals often lack the appropriate knowledge and skills themselves. There are now some publications and guides that provide information about the risks of cell phone communication and other digital media worlds, and there are also a number of training courses and information events (e.g. from the state media authorities and the state offices for the protection of children and young people), but the growing demand the previous offers hardly do justice. Another question to be asked is how far the conceptual foundations of action-oriented media education [26], which is primarily based on active and project-based approaches to media use, media analysis and media design, are already reflected in existing practice. Despite indisputable progress, it has so far not been assumed that professional media education will be permanently anchored in the training and further education of pedagogical specialists (or even in parent and family education), nor that media education tasks have been given any significant consideration in both school and extracurricular education. There is still a considerable need for action in educational policy and in educational practice.

Notes for media pedagogical practice

The cell phone is a particularly personal medium, especially among teenagers. Just like adults, children and young people have the right to have their privacy and intimacy respected. Parents (and other legal guardians) also cross a sensitive line when they spy on what pictures, text messages or other content the children have on their cell phones. Therefore: only what you voluntarily show your parents is intended for you, everything else is taboo. As already stated, upbringing and education are different from the attempt to control children and young people and to protect them from all possible risks. Adolescents must have the chance to gain their own experiences, but they must also be prepared for the world they encounter. Not least today, they need broad media competence in order to be able to deal with the various media in a self-determined and appropriate manner and to be able to understand the media messages, and they need orientation and risk knowledge (one can also say: media education) in order to deal with the special conditions of media communication and interaction to be able to assess and align one's own actions with it. Two pedagogical and educational tasks can be roughly distinguished: on the one hand, supporting the acquisition of media-related knowledge and skills, and, on the other hand, supporting social and personal education under the conditions of increasing mediality. The first area deals with the media (e.g. the cell phone) and their various functions, with technical features and the associated possibilities and risks, with financial and legal aspects and the like. The second area deals with orientation and responsibility in a world shaped by media communication, but with social education and personal development as a whole. If certain children are marginalized in a school class and, for example, also become victims of so-called happy slapping, then this is not a mobile phone problem, but a social problem, a problem of a lack of mutual recognition or appropriate ways of dealing with others. From this perspective, media education is in principle a (necessary) part of general education.

At this point, of course, no comprehensive concept of media education in the family can be drawn up. Even speaking of the family is problematic in view of the growing diversity of family lifestyles in the course of social modernization and de-traditionalization processes. Families are exposed to greater stability risks today, but large parts of the child's socialization and upbringing still take place in the family of origin or another type of family. [27] This means that the family usually accompanies the growing up of the adolescents continuously, in some cases also in a changing constellation of adults. The family supports the children both through the social network in which they integrate and through targeted (educational) impulses and measures in strengthening their independence, their social skills and various other skills. In many (modern) families (unfortunately not in all) children are recognized from the beginning as actors and co-creators of their knowledge and personality, which corresponds to the findings and demands of recent childhood research. Upbringing therefore does not mean pulling the children in a certain direction - possibly against their will. Rather, upbringing means that an understanding takes place with the children. It is about a common process of constructing meaningful and factual connections. Media education and media education are to be thought of and implemented as integrative components of such a form of family education.

With regard to the cell phone, the family's first task is to accompany the entry into cell phone communication, because the children usually get their first cell phone from their parents. When children express the desire to have their own cell phone, this provides an opportunity for an initial understanding of the medium, its functions, the costs, etc., but also about the personal significance it has. Possible rules of use can be discussed, and possible risks can also already be discussed. As soon as the mobile phone is there, there is the opportunity to explore its functions and possibilities together with the children, including the creative and design options (photo, video, personalization, etc.). Especially at the beginning there is often a great interest among the children to get to know, try out and also demonstrate all the possibilities of the new mobile phone, which should be supported and at the same time offers the chance to get a better insight into the technology and to get an impression. how the child uses the cell phone.

The cell phone is relatively quickly becoming an everyday object that is used as a matter of course and increasingly routinely. However, it can happen that problems arise in one of the areas mentioned. There are no patent remedies for dealing with this in an educational and educational way, rather the individual case must always be considered and a form of reaction that is appropriate to the case and the person must be found. With regard to the problem area of ​​content, consideration of the individual case includes, among other things, dealing with the question of what significance, e.g., viewing or passing on violent or sexual content could have for the adolescent? From youth research, we know, for example, that watching horror videos can be something of a test of courage or support group formation through shared experiences or the development of expertise (e.g. for special effects). If adolescents deal with content that is not age-appropriate, this can also be an occasion for discussion on otherwise taboo topics such as death, sexuality, etc. Where the limits of what parents and adults can tolerate are just as difficult to answer in general as the question of how they set limits for children and young people and how they enforce such limits.

The problem area Contact is sensitive in various ways, because in principle children and young people also have the right to establish and maintain their own social contacts, but carelessness can also lead to contacts with people who can harm them. Social learning means that adolescents learn to assess whom they can and cannot trust. You need to know that unfamiliar adults may have different interests than they claim to have. These are well-known tasks of (family) upbringing, which, although not fundamentally changed by the new media, make it necessary to broaden awareness of possible forms of contact. Above all, it is important that there is an awareness of the risks and, associated with this, that the need to behave accordingly carefully is recognized. This also includes dealing with all relevant settings for data protection and the protection of the privacy of mobile devices and adjusting these settings.

The problem area Commerce Most families seem to have a good grip on costs and costs (see Section 3.3), but with the spread of smartphones and the mobile Internet, new risks arise here that can only be minimized by carefully checking the tariffs (especially the Internet tariffs) . [28] When it comes to device costs, it is also worth taking a closer look and, for example, calculating what a new cell phone really costs if, for example, you buy it under a contract with a term of 24 months. In the app stores, it is important to check both the possible costs and the access rights to be granted during installation (e.g. to contact details) and not to confirm them carelessly. The issue of costs should therefore be given sufficient attention when purchasing a cell phone and choosing the tariff. It is important to find the best possible match between the way you use the cell phone and the tariff. A high cell phone bill can be an indication that improvements should be made on one side (tariff) or on the other (mode of use). Since the adolescents usually share in the mobile phone costs (see MPFS 2011), a common interest of children / adolescents and adults can be assumed to keep the risks low. This topic can also be discussed openly, factually and transparently.

Similar to the problem area Contact In order to reduce the risks in the area of ​​privacy, it is important to convey a risk awareness that is reflected on the one hand in the most prudent behavior possible (reluctance to pass on or publish private data or information) and, on the other hand, in the willingness to To take on (especially with internet-enabled cell phones) the possibly annoying duty to check the settings for data protection and privacy protection and to adapt them so that one is as safe as possible in the cellular network and the internet. However, the problem and risk awareness in this area has so far not been very pronounced. Many adolescents tend to ignore this dimension and concentrate on the many new possibilities of communication, entertainment (keyword apps) and mobile Internet access. The parents are all the more challenged to deal with these questions so that they are accepted and taken seriously by the children and young people as competent discussion partners and advisors. But adults can of course also take advantage of the fact that the younger generation is quicker to acquire the new technologies and let them in on the secrets of app stores, privacy settings or RSS feeds - and at the same time find out how pronounced this is, for example Risk awareness in the areas mentioned is.

According to the basic idea of ​​action-oriented media pedagogy [29], which does not reduce its work and task to education and cognitive instruction about the risks and dangers of media use, consideration should also be given to developing small "project tasks" with the children in which they can develop the creative possibilities try out and get to know the cell phone. Think of, for example:

  • Photo projects: from the creation of a digital photo album to the connection of mobile phone photos with the coordinates of the location (so-called geotagging) and the integration of these photos into corresponding maps on the Internet
  • Turning your own mobile phone clips
  • Electronic scavenger hunt with GPS cell phones

Parents should feel stimulated and encouraged to develop and try out their own ideas (with the children) that offer opportunities for learning, experience and reflection. The technical hurdles are now relatively low, because if you have an up-to-date computer with an Internet connection, you can find a variety of free software tools on the Internet that are used, for example, for editing digital photos, creating photo stories or post-processing audio or film files can be. You can also find a video tutorial for each of these programs (for example on the YouTube video platform), as well as experience reports and comments from users who share their knowledge with the Internet public.


  • Beck, Ulrich, Risk Society, Frankfurt a.M., 1986.
  • Döring, Nicola, “Handy-Kids: What do they need the cellphone for?”, In: Do computers make children stupid ?, ed. v. Ullrich Dittler / Michael Hoyer, Munich, 2006, pp. 45-66.
  • Fromme, Johannes / Meder, Norbert, “Computer game cultures and pedagogy - some conclusions”, in: Computer games in children's culture., V. Johannes Fromme / Norbert Meder / Nikolaus Vollmer, Opladen, 2000, pp. 228-240.
  • Initiative “No education without the media”, KBoM - small interim balance. Available at: http://www.keine-bildung-ohne-medien.de/ [Status: May 22, 2012].
  • Landesanstalt für Medien Nordrhein-Westfalen (LfM), Mobil ins Netz, Düsseldorf, 2011. Available at: http://lfmpublikationen.lfm-nrw.de/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=259 [as of April 30, 2012].
  • Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest (MPFS) (Ed.): JIM study 2011. Youth, Information, Multimedia. Basic study of media use by 12 to 19 year olds, Baden-Baden, 2011.
  • Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest (MPFS) (Ed.): KIM Study 2010. Children + Media, Computer + Internet. Basic study of the media handling of 6 to 13 year olds, Baden-Baden, 2010.
  • Schorb, Bernd, “Action-Oriented Media Education”, in: Handbook Media Education, ed. v. Uwe Sander / Friederike von Groß / Kai-Uwe Hugger, Wiesbaden, 2008, pp. 75-86.
  • TrackYourKid. Available at: http://www.trackyourkid.de/index.php [Status: 1.12.2011].
  • Wikipedia (a), child pornography. Available at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinderpornografie [Status: 1.2.2012].
  • Wikipedia (b), informational self-determination. Available at: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informationelle_Selbstbestetzung [Status: 1.2.2012].

[1] On a positive note, it can be noted that the initiative “No education without media”, launched in 2009 by leading media education organizations, received a broad response (cf. initiative “No education without media”, 2012).
[2] see Fromme / Meder (2000), p. 228ff.
[3] By the way, the term mobile phone is a sham Anglicism. In the English-speaking world, portable telephones are called mobiles (or mobile phones) or cell phones.
[4] See MPFS 2010, 2011.
[5] The KIM study is not carried out annually. Therefore the data is missing from the graph for a few years.
[6] see Döring (2006).
[7] see MPFS (2010).
[8] see MPFS (2010), p. 11.
[9] see MPFS (2010), p. 54.
[10] see MPFS (2011), p. 57.
[11] see MPFS (2011), p. 6.
[12] This catchphrase goes back to Heinrich Heine's “Germany. A winter fairy tale ”from 1844.
[13] see TrackYourKid 2012.
[14] ibid.
[15] Döring (2006), p. 9.
[16] ibid.
[17] This statement is of course too general, in the specific case it is necessary to weigh up which media content still appears tolerable, depending on the age and level of development of the adolescents. It should also be noted that this statement does not refer to the legal protection of minors in the media, but to the pedagogical and educational level, for which protection and control should not represent the leading categories.
[18] see Wikipedia (a).
[19] MPFS (2011), p. 62).
[20] ibid.
[21] see MPFS (2011), pp. 57-58.
[22] MPFS (2011), p. 58.
[23] see MPFS (2011), p. 57.
[24] see Wikipedia (b).
[25] Beck (1986).
[26] see Schorb (2008).
[27] According to the Federal Statistical Office, 72% of underage children lived with married parents in 2010, 8.6% in cohabitation and 19.4% with a single parent. It should be noted that this is a snapshot and that there is a strong tendency to complete “incomplete” families with a new partner (cf. Nauck 1993 / Federal Statistical Office).
[28] see LfM 2011
[29] Schorb (2008).


Prof. Dr. Johannes Fromme

Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg
Chair of Educational Media Research
Zschokkestr. 32
39104 Magdeburg