On the basis of the law and insights from research in education, psychology, and other relevant fields, regulatory bodies like the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (KJM, Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz) monitor media content to determine how well it aligns with accepted social values and norms. This makes the protection of minors an enterprise that is both values-based and important for preserving those values. Above all, these regulatory measures are meant to protect at-risk children and adolescents, such as those coming from socially disadvantaged families or families shaped by violence.
Space for healthy development
Children and adolescents have the right to their own space apart from adults where they can be protected from negative influences. This allows young people to experience their feelings, needs, and inclinations without disturbance from the adult world, construct their own identities, and become integrated into existing social structures. In terms of the media, such protected spaces are typically prescribed by law; in Germany, the relevant statutes include the federal Youth Protection Act (JuSchG, Jugendschutzgesetz) and the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV, Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag).
European Union law also provides stipulations to ensure the protection of minors with regard to television and on-demand services, particularly the Directive on Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS Directive).
In addition to statutory regulations to protect minors in the media, it is also very important to encourage media literacy in children and adolescents as a preventative measure. The goal of protecting young people in the media is closely tied to measures taken to educate not just children and young people in media literacy, but also parents, educators, and media providers. Media literacy is an important element in achieving comprehensive protections for minors in the media, though it cannot replace media oversight.
Challenges for media oversight
Efforts to protect children and adolescents in the media face serious challenges today: one the one hand, globalization, media convergence, and advances in technology leads to an increase in the amount of available content of relevance to youth protection, and with it the need for action. On the other hand, the sheer volume of media content and the nature of modern, mostly digital, means of communication unrestricted by national borders make it increasingly difficult to create effective control mechanisms. As a result, institutions in Germany and around the world that deal with the protection of minors in the media are now confronted with a range of complex issues.
Social consensus as a basis
Often, content which is the subject of social controversy and thus might be relevant to this issue cannot be considered objectionable from the standpoint of protecting minors in the media; whilst it might be pushing the envelope, it still falls within the scope of what is legally permissible. Ultimately, even the regulations of the law are always an expression of where a society currently is, as they arise from discourse about ethical limits. They therefore play an important role in guiding efforts to protect minors in the media, as this is something that relies on some social consensus.
This demonstrates another significant function of youth protection – raising awareness within society. Youth protection also serves a declaratory function: when violations are punished as an example and made public, this tends to spark debate throughout society as a whole. To some extent, this allows society to affirm its values by discussing what children and adolescents should or should not be expected to handle.