In today's digital world, children and young people increasingly must face the challenges of the Internet. For more than 40 years, "Nummer gegen Kummer" has been a reliable point of contact for those seeking advice, for all questions, worries and problems - free of charge and anonymously. On today's World Mental Health Day, we spoke with Anna Zacharias from Nummer gegen Kummer e.V. - the umbrella organization for all child and youth telephones and parent telephones in Germany.
Every day, around 1,500 people call the free "Nummer gegen Kummer" helpline for support on issues such as lovesickness, school problems, bullying and abuse. The counselors create a safe space, listen, and offer help for self-help.
The "Nummer gegen Kummer" has been around for over 40 years. During this time, the children's and youth hotline has established itself as a well-known point of contact. Girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 18 make extensive use of this service. The parents' telephone is also heavily used. During the Corona pandemic, the number of calls to the Parents' Phone increased sharply - from around 8,000 calls a year to around 20,000. To date, this number has remained high.
"We support adolescents as well as educators and teachers at all levels in dealing with digital media. But providers also have a responsibility. In Telekom, we have had a strong partner at our side for many years."
Childhood in the digital age: new approaches to new challenges
With the influence of digital media, the challenges young people face have changed. Anna Zacharias works at "Nummer gegen Kummer" and heads online counseling and press and public relations there. She is familiar with the problems faced by children and young people in the digital age: "Among other things, we receive many questions about bullying. Today, bullying no longer ends at the school gate, but continues in messenger groups and reaches adolescents at home. What's more, children and young people can access content at any time that deals with problematic beauty ideals or self-harm, for example."
That's why parents also face new challenges. "Parents whose children are affected by bullying or hate online usually feel helpless and desperate," says Anna Zacharias. "Often the situation has been going on for a while and parents have done everything they can to protect their child. They turn to the parent hotline because they don't know what to do. The counselors* can take a fresh look at the situation together with them and develop a strategy to support the affected child in the best possible way."
Protection from hate online: a question of media literacy?
Nasty comments under one's own Instagram post, fake news, or questionable ideals of beauty: the Internet can be full of dangers for children and young people. It is therefore even more important that they acquire media skills at a young age and can independently and competently evaluate and classify content on the net. It is equally important that the adults who accompany young people can handle digital media with confidence. The counselors at "Nummer gegen Kummer" are explicitly and comprehensively trained in media literacy so that they can support parents and adolescents in dealing with media and their risks.
But prevention work is also an important area of the "Nummer gegen Kummer", says Anna Zacharias: "Education and sensitization are important components of our work. Nummer gegen Kummer e.V. is part of the Safer Internet Center Germany. Together with the media competence initiative klicksafe, the Internet Complaints Office and jugendschutz.net, we support adolescents as well as educators and teachers at all levels in dealing with digital media. But providers also have a duty. It is their task to create good conditions so that children and young people can use the Internet safely. In Telekom, we have had a strong partner at our side for many years who does just that."
Deutsche Telekom has been a cooperation partner of "Nummer gegen Kummer" for more than 30 years. Deutsche Telekom Service provides the technical infrastructure for the nationwide counselling service free of charge. In addition, Deutsche Telekom pays the connection charges for calls to the counselling hotlines.
Counselors wanted throughout Germany! Anyone who would like to support the work of "Nummer gegen Kummer" and become an active volunteer themselves can find more information on its website.