From toddlers to teens, a digital world | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.06.2015
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From toddlers to teens, a digital world

Alongside Lego building blocks and dolls, tablet computers and laptops are making their way into children's playrooms. Parents are alternately amused and irritated, fascinated and concerned.

"It's totally amazing how they handle these things," says a young mother about her three and five year old children and how deftly they handle computers and smart phones. And the mother of a six-year old marvels that her child must have been born knowing how to "swipe a touchscreen."

More than 1.2 million children in Germany aged three to eight are regularly online, according to a 150-page study entitled "Children in the digital world."

The study conducted by the German Institute for Trust and Security on the Internet (DIVSI) and the Sinus Social Research Institute looks at how children in that age group navigate the digital world.

To that end, they questioned 1,029 kids aged six to eight - in addition to 1,832 parents of the younger set, that is, the three to eight-year-olds.

toddler with tablet PC

Learning by doing

Young digital natives

The study finds that more than half of the eight-year-olds (55 percent) surf the Internet on a regular basis, compared to 28 percent of the children aged six and 11 percent of the three-year-olds - a whopping one out of ten in the case of the youngest participants in the study.

The tots can't read yet, but they watch videos and they sure can recognize symbols that lead them to websites that interest them.

The fact that, no matter the families' financial status, the children were well-equipped with smart phones and tablet and laptop computers came as quite a surprise, DIVSI deputy director Joanna Schmölz told DW.

No worries

65 percent of the parents are convinced that their offspring need digital skills to succeed in society. And the study finds that's true, Schmölz says: "Digital expertise is a key prerequisite for social participation."

Boy with table t pc

The world at a swipe

Parents can breathe a sigh of relief, however: The study found that despite their unmistakeable presence in the children's lives, digital media aren't at the top of the list by far. For the most part, kids still do what they have always liked best: they play.

71 percent of the six to eight year olds still prefer to get together with their friends, and play. Playing outdoors also still beats the use of digital media, coming in second in the children's ranking of favorite activities.

Adolescents in the digital world

Last year, DIVSI published a study on children, young adolescents and young adults' - the nine to 24 age group - approach to the Internet. Not surprisingly, the study found that 98 per cent of 14 to 24-year-olds use the Internet.

"Smart phones have become our constant companions in all areas of life," it says.

Most people can no longer imagine a life without smart phones and the Internet, the study's authors say, adding that "communicating with friends has become the most important facet of Internet use for adolescents and young adults."

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