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Your 2-Minute Warnings Might Be Making Everything Worse

Ever since you became a parent, a 2-minute warning has become so much more than a rule in the NFL. Now, it signifies that you have 120 seconds before a tantrum about screen time inevitably unfolds. And what do you say to your kid? “You were warned!” Well, according to new research out of the University of Washington, that’s exactly the problem.

The study looked at 2 datasets of 55 parents with children ages 1 to 5 years old: One group of 27 were interviewed. The additional group of 28 kept diaries about their children’s screen habits and tactics they used when telling kids to put the screens away. Nearly all the parents in each group cited warnings as one of the main methods of smoothing this transition, despite the fact that most reported that these warnings made tantrums worse. If your warnings feel like a waste of energy, it might be because it is. A majority of the parents reported that occasionally their kids had outbursts no matter what — because they’re kids.

The good news is that all these children — warned and unwarned — were better at breaking away from their screens than researchers and parents originally thought. As many as 20 percent of kids in the diary portion reported welcoming turn-off time. Parental behaviors were pretty on point as well, with most of them using devices only to distract kids in difficult situations (i.e. long car rides, the doctor’s office), or when the parent needs to attend to another child or household chores (which is the other 90 percent of the time).

But, the best indicator of whether or not kids would take the takeaway in stride was that if screen sessions came to a natural end (like you reach grandma’s, the episode ends, or they just killed your iPhone battery). Another “natural” end is the shut-off timer, and most kid technology has that built in. Unless you need your toddler to figure out how to turn the timer on, in which case you’re screwed.