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Two-minute warnings to turn TV off make things worse for kids

Washington: If you always find it difficult to make your kids stop watching television or playing games on the smartphone, giving them a two-minute warning that "screen time" is about to end, as most parents tend to do, may not be the best solution, new research suggests.

Such warning by parents make transitions away from tablets, phones, televisions and other technological devices more painful for kids, the findings showed.

The researchers found that children aged one to five who were given a two-minute warning by their parents were more upset when the screen went away.

"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 study lead author Alexis Hiniker from University of Washington.

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

The findings are based on interviews and a diary study of families who documented screen time transitions in detail.

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.

Screen time transitions also went more smoothly if the technology was to blame. Children were less likely to be upset, for instance, if they could not watch a video because WiFi was unavailable.

That raises the question of whether a two-minute warning issued by the technology itself -- rather than a parent -- might still prove helpful, researchers said.

A family might set a specific amount of screen time in an app and let the child pick an activity to follow.

At two minutes out, the app could remind the child that it is almost time to eat lunch or meet a friend or get out the play dough.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's 2016 CHI conference in San Jose, California on May 9.

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