Netflix isn’t a babysitter.

The 3-6-9-12 rule

20 years ago, media consumption seemed to be condemned to passivity: Listening to the radio, reading magazines and sitting in front of the TV offered few opportunities for interaction. Today, however, consumption and action are closely linked: children grow up with media that entertain and challenge them at the same time. Children and teenagers use smartphones, computers and tablets for almost everything: homework, video games, lecture preparation, Netflix, communication with friends, information gathering, hobbies, education. Internet-enabled devices are therefore neither to be discarded of, nor can they simply be assessed positively or negatively. They are simply central interfaces of the reality with which our children grow up. They are personalised, interactive and multi-layered. Serge Tisseron, French psychoanalyst, child psychologist and professor, has noted that we have passed from the age of the book to the age of the screen. This is a fundamental change that cannot be undone.

But what does this mean for parents? The generation of today’s 30-year-olds still grew up in a world where online and offline life could be easily distinguished. The special challenge for young parents is to simultaneously protect children and educate them to become independent. If children are protected too strongly from the dangers of the internet by restrictions and sanctions, this hardly prevents them from entering an age at which parents no longer have any influence. If, on the other hand, children are left completely unprepared and left alone with internet-enabled media at a too young age, there are many dangers: One is that they become victims of various phenomena ranging from subscription traps and dubious offers to cyber-grooming or bullying. Another is that they develop habits that harm them in the long run.

The development of meaningful habits with regard to media consumption is a central concern of the so-called “3-6-9-12 rule”, a guideline developed by Serge Tisseron. The central concern of the rule is not only to educate children to use the media responsibly and to make them aware of certain dangers. It‘s also about letting children experience that there are manifold non-digital accesses to the outside world. Children should develop habits to get in touch with their environment in various ways and use all their senses.

The 3-6-9-12 rule is as follows:

No screen forward 3:

At the age of up to three, children should above all learn to experience their environment with all their senses. For the first three years, children should therefore not have access to smartphones, tablets and computers. Numerous studies show that playing with toys has a far more positive influence on children’s development than the constant confrontation with screens. This also means that Netflix is not a babysitter.

No video games before 6:

Sure, many children already have access to game consoles at a younger age. And that can trigger curiosity and envy in other children. Nevertheless, Tisseron recommends that children should only play video games from the age of 6. When children at a younger age learn to deal with their toys, friends and nature, they are less likely to develop habits that will harm them later. If, on the other hand, children spend too much time playing video games too early, they will absorb their full attention – with consequences for other learning processes.

No Internet before 9 (even not when supervised):

Children under the age of 9 should not surf the internet. Not even in the presence of their parents. When children start visiting websites, it‘s important to be accompanied by teachers or parents. It‘s equally essential that children learn the most important basic rules of the Internet. Firstly, this means that everything that is uploaded can somehow reach the public. Even in private chats it‘s possible to take screenshots. The second rule is that everything that is uploaded is on the internet forever and can theoretically reappear years later. The third rule is that children must learn not to trust everything that is written on the internet. Information must always be secured from multiple sources and Wikipedia is more reliable than forum posts. Especially children should be sensitised for advertising and dubious offers.

Unattended internet use only from 12 years:

From the age of 12, children should be given so much autonomy to surf the internet on their own. Even now, however, certain rules are still called for: Internet usage times and certain time limits should be agreed on. Another sensible rule is that smartphones must not be used during family meals, in the car or for joint activities. Here, experts point to the role model function of parents: Screen-free times should not only apply to children, but to the whole family.

The 3-6-9-12 rule is to be understood more as a guideline than as a set of rules. Of course, children, parents and family structures are very different. It already becomes difficult when children have older siblings. However, the rule is well suited for sensitising people to learning certain habits.






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