Boy crying about iPad

(Photo by Olimpik on Shutterstock)

Many parents worry about how much time their children spend watching screens. While some time on devices is fine for entertainment and education, we also know it is important children do things away from TVs and devices.

This means for many families, there is a daily battle around getting kids off their screens and avoiding “tech tantrums.” Our new research looks at how parents and carers can help children with what researchers call “technology transitions.”

Why are transitions so tough?

Technology transitions are a lot like other transitions children experience throughout their day.

These include stopping play to get dressed, moving from having breakfast to getting in the car, or finishing time on the swing to leave the park. These can be tricky because they involve self-regulation skills that children learn and develop as they grow.

Transitioning from screen to non-screen activities is something many children would do more than once a day.

Often technology transitions can appear harder for children and their carers than other transitions because devices can be highly engaging, with developers and media designers actively working to keep children connected (think of how streaming services automatically start playing the next show and display all the similar options for viewing).

Parents disciplining talking to child after bad behavior
Children today can struggle when asked to transition from screens to non-digital activities. (Photo by Ground Picture on Shutterstock)

Our study

We are working on a larger project to develop an online tool with advice for parents about using digital technologies with their children.

In this part of the study, we have been exploring how to support children with technology transitions. Together with Playgroup WA, we worked with a group of 14 parents to explore different ways to move children off technology.

Over 12 weeks, we provided parents with ideas and advice to support transitions and then asked them what worked best. These resources included content from the federal government’s parenting website Raising Children Network and ABC Kids.

Families reported their top three strategies for supporting technology transitions.

1. Prepare your kids

We would be upset if we were watching a movie and someone suddenly stopped it midway through without warning.

Just like adults, children can feel very annoyed and frustrated when their device is suddenly taken away, especially when they are enjoying a game or watching content they like.

So you need to prepare children and let them know when their time with a screen will end.

Some successful strategies parents and carers in this research used were “you can watch two episodes of this show” or “when this game is finished we will stop.” These help children to know how much time they will have with a device and that they will be able to finish an activity they are enjoying.

Telling them what activity would follow was also helpful. For example “when you have finished that game it will be time to eat” or “after you have watched that show we will go to the park.” What they are moving to may not always be fun, helping children understand what to expect helps make for a smoother transition.

2. Do something ‘for real-life’ inspired by the screen

You can use children’s interests in what they are watching to help them move from technologies into non-digital activities.

For example if your child has been watching Bluey you could invite them to complete a Bluey puzzle, or role-play some Bluey games such as keepy uppy or obstacle course. Families in this study reported moving from watching Fireman Sam to visiting a fire station or building a fire station with their child using blocks and other play materials in the home.

Parents also successfully used music and songs children liked to help with technology transitions. This could be playing music from a show, or turning on music kids liked to act as a fun activity to engage them in something else.

Getting children outside and into a more physical, interactive environment can help keep their minds off of electronics. (Photo by lunamarina on Shutterstock)

3. Give kids choice

Offering children choice in these situations can also be very powerful.

Many aspects of children’s lives are managed for them, when to go to school or preschool, what they have to wear and using a seat belt in the car. Many of these things are not negotiable and often for good reasons.

This is why it is helpful to give children some choice in their lives when you can.

Parents reported success when providing kids with simple choices when preparing to move off technology. For example “would you like to watch two or four episodes of this show?” or “would you like to start the timer for your game or do you want me to let you know when your time is up?”

These strategies help children feel like they have some choice about how long they will use technologies.

As parents and carers navigate screens and technology with their kids, they should know they are not alone if they find transitions difficult. And there are strategies that can help.


The Raising Children Network has more ideas for supporting transitions.The Conversation

Article written by Juliana Zabatiero, Research Fellow, Curtin University; Kate Highfield, Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education Academic Lead, University of Canberra; Leon Straker, Professor of Physiotherapy, Curtin University, and Susan Edwards, Professor of Education, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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21 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    $600k research grant to study how to help parents say “no” to their children. God help us all.

    1. JSN says:

      I have young kids. No matter how much they cry when I say NO, they still haven’t died. In fact, they’ve gotten better at accepting that sometimes they don’t get what they want 🤔

  2. S says:

    I remember I didn’t want to get off my Sega Genesis. A whooped backside later, all of a sudden, that was cured right up!

    1. Leon says:

      Your Sega Genesis wasn’t designed by 1000s of tech brains to keep kids addicted. Stop blaming the kids or the parents and start looking at an industry that’s making trillions of keeping your kids glued to a screen and mine their data.

      1. R O says:

        Just like their parents’ screen use?

  3. angry_troglodyte says:

    Wow, so glad I don’t have kids. The amount of work that goes into coddling them these days, geesh!

  4. antitech says:

    how about no screen time ever and at all for kids until they are a teenager and even then limited use.

  5. Scott says:

    And here I was thinking that I was in charge when I raised my kids.

  6. Chad Dankbutt says:

    Or, you know, don’t give kids screens to begin with. If using a screen is never a regular occurrence then removing it won’t create issues.

  7. Blob says:

    Children do not need to use computers at all, and are much better off (cognitively and behaviorally) without them. A small amount of TV or movies can be OK for those over 2 or 3 years. Parents tend to hand cell phones or tablets to children (or even get them their own phones) to keep them quiet and pacified, but in so doing, they are trading quiet and convenience for long-term cognitive ability and future tantrums.

  8. Klyphton says:

    How about stop giving them the device in the first place? Everyone knows how addictive these devices are for adults, so why subject your child to them? Children have survived and thrived without screen time since the dawn of time, they will be fine without one until they are old enough to exert self control.

  9. leon says:

    Or, you know, you can just not give your kids any screens until they’re 13 or 14 like we did. It has nothing to do with coddling. The problem is that parents want their me time and at the same time have been made paranoid to send their kids outside to play by themselves. So yeah, you need to interact and play with your child, but for many parents that’s just too much work so they give them an ipad and turn em into screen zombies.

  10. John Schilling says:

    Wife tantrums are even worse. Solution to both is to OPT-OUT. Go MGTOW. Never marry or have kids. Keep control of your life. Let the idiots walk the rocky road. Bag some disposable nookie from time to time, but beyond that, keep things wrapped tight. You don’t need to change the world, just take care of your tiny corner of it and laugh at all the rest as you roll in your money and sleep in. MGTOW, my brothers, for a long, safe, sane, comfortable, rewarding life.

  11. scot tucker says:

    Dont get them any. make them play outside.

  12. Mendy Hecht says:

    How about just not letting the sweet little dears not have smartphones or tablets or laptops in the first place?

  13. Cassandra says:

    I’m more disturbed by the lack of writing skills these researchers possess. Knowledge about how to put a sentence together is something so basic and rudimentary, it makes me wonder if they have the wherewithal to do accurate scientific research.

    1. Pua Mana says:

      Colleges and Universities complain that their students can only read at a 8th Grade level !
      We’re seeing the results of 26 yrs of Dumbing Down the population.

  14. jack mccready says:

    “Moving from having breakfast to the car” is a self-regulation skill. BWAhahahahahahahahahahah
    I get it. We’re dealing with more ons here.

  15. Sean says:

    Beat that ass

  16. Mike says:

    I’m glad to see some attention to this subject. We don’t allow technology for our daughter during the weekdays and it is limited on the weekends. She understands this as well as we do, and the result is a child who can entertain herself and interact with others without a screen tethered to her. This article, while helpful for a few, is so fundamental it shouldn’t be necessary. We have devolved…

  17. Nicholas B Taylor says:

    I have read that Christian missionaries in South American had a hard time targeting some indigenous tribes because they had no words for ‘sin’ or ‘punishment’, or equivalent terms of control. Once I visited a tribe in Panama, to which we were taken in a dugout canoe. Of course, they were fully commercialised. High above the beach a whole field was devoted to stalls selling stuff for dollars. Getting bored with it all, I started wandering and suddenly saw one of canoes begin to slip into the river. I ran down and grabbed it, but a second later a small boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, arrived and tied it. No lack of ‘self-regulation skills’ there.