Two Minutes until Tantrum: Kids, Technology and Transitions

If you are like most parents today, a common refrain you find yourself saying is something like this, “two more minutes and iPad time is over.” We parents give these kinds of warnings frequently—for time on the playground, for time to get ready for school, etc. We think they are helpful because they give the child some warning that a transition is about to happen.

Technology-transitions-and-toddlersWell, it turns out, that in the case of technology and preschoolers, these warnings of the end of tech time, may actually make matters worse. A recent study examined just this issue to see if the “two-minute warning” helped or hindered kids’ transition to another activity.

The study was small (28 families) but it considered quite a lot of detail of how families of toddlers and preschools managed screen time (including TV, iPad, phones, tablets). One notable finding was that families reported that the majority of the time (59%) transitions away from technology actually went quite well, with the child responding in a neutral way. Parents reported that about 22% of the time, children had a negative reaction to the end of screen time.

The research clearly showed, however, that these negative reactions occurred most commonly when the parent gave the “two-minute warning” regarding the end of screen time. The researchers examined the data many ways and controlled for other factors and this finding still held true.

Interestingly, when the end of screen time was part of a regular routine, it was met with less resistance from the child. For example, if the child knows that the iPad always goes off once breakfast is ready, then they were much less likely to resist this transition. This information is very helpful as a parent. We all know that kids usually respond best and thrive in the context of routines. It turns out that routines regarding the use of technology seem to work best as well.

The other situation in which children resisted the end of screen time least was when it was in the content of a natural end or transition in the video or game they were using. So, for instance, if screen time was stopped at the end of a TV show or after the finishing of a game, children tended to respond much more positively. This is also informative for both parents and technology developers. If parents can time the end of screen time at a natural stopping point, transitions will likely go much smoother. Similarly, if technology developers could add features to allow parental control options to time at the end of a show or game, this could turn out to be a very useful feature.

In the end, children in the toddler and preschool age often struggle with transitions of many types. They are at an age, when their burgeoning independence is developing and they have limited self-control. As a parent, this is difficult at times, but it’s helpful to know that routines, in many forms, can help ease the struggle. Kids of all ages have to learn when and where it is appropriate to use technology and routines can help with this learning process. Just as children eventually learn to eat with utensils, not to put their feet on the table, and all number of other household rules, they will eventually learn (with parents’ help) the guidelines for your household’s technology use as well.

See the full study here:

About the Author

Amy Webb, PhD is a scholar turned stay-at-home mom with two young sons. With her blog, The Thoughtful Parent, she brings academic child development and parenting research into the lives of parents in the trenches of child-rearing. She does not claim to be a parenting expert, but rather a translator of academic research into reader-friendly articles.


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