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(Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Parents who think they’re setting kids up for a smoother transition away from screen time by issuing a “2-minute warning” are actually making their child’s tantrum worse, a new study from the University of Washington concludes.

Researchers found that some things, such as routines and natural stopping points, were useful in disengaging children from phones, tablets, computers, televisions and other technological devices, UW Today reported. But children aged 1 to 5 who were given a 2-minute warning by parents before a device went away ended up more upset.

Researchers in UW’s Computing for Healthy Learning and Living Lab based their findings on interviews and a diary study of families who documented screen time transitions in detail. The results are outlines in a paper to be presented Monday at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2016 CHI conference in San Jose, Calif, UW Today reported.

(Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)
(Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

“We were really shocked — to the point that we thought ‘well, maybe parents only give the 2-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 2-minute warning made it worse.”

The study did find that most of the time, transitions away from a screen go smoothly, or elicit a neutral reaction. But the 22 percent of the reactions that are negative are apparently unpleasant enough to cause parents to brace for that reaction each time. Senior author and associate professor of human-centered design and engineering Julie Kientz said that can ultimately color perceptions.

The UW also found that the most common trigger for putting devices away (39 percent of the time) “was a situational change that made screen time impossible or incompatible with family activities — reaching your destination in a car or needing to leave for school or having a friend knock on the door to play.”

Researchers also raised the question of whether a 2-minute warning issued by the technology itself might prove more effective than one delivered by a parent.

“The kids we looked at for this particular study are right in that power struggle age,” Kientz told UW Today. “It’s much easier to do that with a person than with technology. Once you take that parental withholding component out of it, kids are a lot more accepting.”

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