Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Two-minute warnings make kids' 'screen time' tantrums worse


Public Release: 5-May-2016
Two-minute warnings make kids' 'screen time' tantrums worse
University of Washington

Giving young children a two-minute warning that "screen time" is about to end makes transitions away from tablets, phones, televisions and other technological devices more painful, a new University of Washington study has found.

Researchers expected that this ubiquitous parenting tool -- which aims to make it easier for children to disengage from an activity they're absorbed in -- would help smooth transitions away from screen time.

Some things did make that switch easier, like having routines, disengaging at a natural stopping point or simply having a battery die.

But children aged 1 to 5 who were given a two-minute warning by their parents were more upset when the screen went away.

Parents also reported that features like "autoplay" -- which automatically starts another video when one ends -- or suggested videos that pop up and tempt children to keep watching were a frustrating and driving force behind many of their battles.


"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, a UW doctoral candidate in human-centered design and engineering.

"So we did a lot of things to control for that but every way we sliced it, the two-minute warning made it worse."


Parents reported that screen time transitions were easier when they were part of a routine. The same child who might argue and negotiate for more screen time after a Friday night treat may be perfectly fine with turning off the TV when breakfast is ready if that is part of the daily household routine.

Natural stopping points in the content children were viewing or in the games they were interacting with made transitions easier -- which represents an opportunity for content developers and technology designers to help families have more positive media experiences, the researchers say.

Screen time transitions also went more smoothly if the technology was to blame. Children were less likely to be upset, for instance, if they couldn't watch a video because WiFi was unavailable. One couple who regretted allowing their child to watch a particular show on vacation encountered tantrums when they wouldn't let him watch it at home. When they told him the show wasn't available in Seattle, the fights evaporated.


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