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Turns Out Giving Kids a 2-Minute Warning About TV Doesn't Work

Photograph by Twenty20

Most parents are familiar with the good ol' two-minute warning. Parents all over use this technique to try to gently transition their child out of one activity into the next—mainly in hopes of avoiding a tantrum. Well, it turns out we've been doing it all wrong.

A new study out of the University of Washington claims that kids ages 1 to 5 who are given the two-minute warning—particularly in relation to having to turn off an electronic device—have a far more negative response and invokes greater "screen-time tantrums" than if the parent hadn't given the warning in the first place. Lead author Alexis Hiniker says the researchers hadn't expected such an outcome.

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

The study followed 28 families of toddlers and preschoolers and had them keep a diary about the child's screen-time activities and how upset or not upset they were when it was time to turn the device off. Surprisingly enough, the diaries revealed that about 75 percent of the time, the child didn't really have a problem turning off the device and that 20 percent of the time kids were happy to turn it off or even asked to turn it off themselves.

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Senior author Julie Kentz shares, "Most of the time these transitions actually go pretty smoothly, which can be hard for parents to recognize." It was how the kid was asked to turn it off that seemed to make a difference.

So if the two-minute warning doesn't work, what does? Turns out things like this: observing a routine (i.e., the child is used to watching and stopping a show at a specific time every day), a natural stopping point in the program or game (also the reason parents hate YouTube's autoplay feature) and a technological failure like a dead iPad battery (it's not Mom's fault, it's the Wi-Fi!).

This brings up an interesting question, as the kids used in this study are right at the age where power struggles are a daily battle. So simply because the parent is suggesting the change may make the difference between a positive and negative outcome. This leads researchers to wonder what it would be like if it were the actual device giving the two-minute warning, rather than the parent. According to Kietnz, “Once you take that parental withholding component out of it, kids are a lot more accepting.”

Some good news about parents also came out of this study, which noted that most parents didn't use screens as electronic babysitters. The devices were usually turned on when a parent had a chore to do or another child to tend to. Basically, "they usually pull out the iPad as a last line of defense or in a moment of desperation because the parent hasn’t showered all day," says Hiniker.

Just remember to turn that autoplay off YouTube before you hop in the shower.

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RELATED: Toddlers Know Exactly What They're Doing When They Have a Tantrum

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