“Two-Minute Warnings” Don’t Help Children Transition from Screen Time

Boy using tablet

A two-minute warning may not be the best way to get kids away from screens.
Image: Shutterstock

Interactive technology like iPads and computers are an almost essential part of life in many families, and toddlers of today will be the first generation or so to never have not known such devices. As such, figuring out how to incorporate those devices into their lives is an important part of raising them to be productive adults. One aspect of that is finding ways to transition away from “screen time” to other activities.

One common method is to offer a “two-minutes warning” to let children know that their screen time is almost up. Conventional wisdom would point to this making transitions easier, but a recent study from the University of Washington finds that the opposite is actually true. Children who are given two-minute warnings tended to plead or fight more to keep using devices when time was up.

The reason behind this might be that those warnings and subsequent stoppage of screen time don’t come at a natural stopping point in the activity. If that happens in the middle of a video or game, the child is less likely to want to stop. The study found that the most successful transitions came when a game or video ended on its own, when the child became bored, or when there was something else that naturally interrupted it, like arriving at a destination or a friend coming over to play.

Some of the most successful transitions came as part of a daily routine. The same child who gets to play with an iPad as a reward was more resistant to ending screen time than when it was time for breakfast or the like. If it was routine, the child knew to expect that end to screen time and was more accepting of it.

The study also found that most parents weren’t using such devices as babysitters, but as a distraction during medical visits, to keep kids occupied while driving, or so they could take care of other children or do chores.

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