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Screen Time: Why the 2-Minute Warning Doesn't Work

When all else fails, blame tech

Kids and Use of Tech |

Just when you think you have a parenting strategy in the bag, some study comes along and rears the former advice on its head. Praise, anyone? The latest study claims giving kids a two-minute warning before pulling the plug on screen time is doomed to backfire.

In fact, giving kids a two-minute warning to say goodbye to the iPad will most likely make matters worse. Instead of easing the transition, the heads up that screen time will end imminently can provoke bigger tantrums. 

Researchers at the University of Washington were so taken aback by the findings, they ramped up control elements of the small study, which involved children aged one through five. 

“We were really shocked - to the point that we thought ‘well, maybe parents only give the two-minute warning right before something unpleasant or when they know a child is likely to put up resistance,'” said lead author, Alexis Hiniker. "... but every way we sliced it, the two-minute warning made it worse.”

But there was a silver lining. In 75 per cent of cases, kids transitioned fine when screen time reached an end. And it seems parents, rather than treating devices as electronic babysitters, tended to use tablets responsibly, e.g. while they tended to chores or to kill waiting time during car rides or at doctor's offices.

So if not the two-minute warning, then what? 

I admit this is a sticking point with my own son, and the catalyst for many a meltdown. So much so that I am often tempted to nix screen time altogether, though I know that's hardly a fair or realistic option.

The most success I've had (as suggested by the researchers) is to terminate screen time when a game or video has reached a natural conclusion. 

I'll tell my son he has to wrap it up shortly. I'll ask how long there is remaining in whatever he happens to be watching or playing, then I let him know that it's the last one. Nine times out of ten, this method works, unless he's playing a particular game in "infinity" mode. When there is no natural pause, he is loathe to hand it over. Setting a timer only winds up him more.

“The kids we looked at for this particular study are right in that power struggle age,” said senior study author, Julie Kientz. “Once you take that parental withholding component out of it, kids are a lot more accepting.”

What I've noticed is that my guy tends to be far more agreeable when there is an element of negotiation and communication involved. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I was watching or playing something and my husband came over and snatched my phone out of my hand. Pretty pissed.

When all else fails, many parents aren't above blaming the tech. A battery can just up and die. A wi-fi connection can suddenly, inexplicably drop out. But be warned. This method of deception comes with a very short shelf life. By age five most kids are way too savvy to fall for prey to the tech failure excuse.

 RELATED: Why You May Need a Tech Time Out