Social networks and the protection of minorsIs social media addictive?

TikToks, YouTube shorts or Instagram reels - the short clips on social media delight young and old alike. The result: we spend more time on the services than planned. Parents and youth protection officers are particularly concerned about the long dwell times and potential risks of social media use for children and young people. What are operators doing to protect minors on their platforms? As part of the Digital Services Act that recently came into force, the EU has initiated formal proceedings against the video platform TikTok. Among other things, this concerns "addictive design". We provide information on what parents need to be aware of when their children use social media.

According to the latest JIM study, young people spend almost 3.5 hours (213 min) on their smartphones every day. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are among the most important apps. They offer children and young people a variety of ways to find out about the latest trends, follow their stars, present themselves and be part of the social media community. However, children and young people also come across content on social media that is harmful to minors, e.g. instructions for self-harming behavior, extremist content, dangerous challenges or glorification of alcohol or drug consumption. Children and young people are also exposed to stressful interaction risks such as cyberbullying and sexual assault(cybergrooming) on social networks. One thing is clear: children and young people need effective protection within digital platforms.

Digital Services Act - EU opens proceedings against TikTok

On February 17, 2024, the Digital Services Act (DSA) came into force for all internet services. The Digital Services Act regulates online services within the EU and aims to create more protection for users of online services. This affects not only, but very significantly, young users. The EU Commission is currently conducting a formal investigation into whether the video platform TikTok may have violated the DSA and is not protecting underage users enough. In particular, this concerns the transparency of advertising, whether the app adequately verifies the age of users and whether usersare sufficiently protected from addiction and problematic content ("rabbit hole effects") due to algorithmic systems.

"It often happens that I forget about myself and spend much more time on my cell phone than I had planned." According to the latest JIM Study 2023, 61% of young people agree with this statement.

What keeps children and young people glued to screens?

Social media services are similar to online games, for example. The aim of the design is to keep users on the service for as long as possible. With so-called dark patternsmanipulative strategies, users are unconsciously motivated to continue playing or using an app through targeted advertising, the display of content based on their own interests and rewards. Apps such as TikTok, Instagram or YouTube shorts are also structured in such a way that users can scroll on endlessly - so there is no time when you have looked through all the videos or posts and have to wait until there is something new. As a result, users may find it increasingly difficult not to reach for their smartphone. On the one hand as a recipient, for fear of missing something new ("fear of missing out", FOMO for short). On the other hand, as a producer, for fear of no longer being noticed in the flood of constantly new posts, videos and the associated recognition in the form of likes.

klicksafe podcast: Are our children addicted to media?

In our podcast "klicksafe asks ..." we talk about why an undifferentiated approach to the term "media addiction " is problematic. Our guest in the podcast is Torsten Krause from Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk.

→ Listen to the podcast

Tips for parents and guardians

If your children use online services such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat:

  1. Find out about the minimum age and the usage guidelines of the respective service.
  2. The protection mechanisms of the services are only effective if the correct age is specified: Ensure greater safety by setting up the user account together, showing reporting options and defining usage rules.
  3. Explain manipulative mechanisms in social media services. Then find binding rules for screen time and restrictions on app use together.
  4. Actively monitor your child's social media use. For example, regularly ask about current trends and challenges or which channels and influencers your child follows. You can find suitable conversation startershere.
  5. Are you worried about your child's media usage behavior? You can find Help and advice centers.