WELLBEING

How to Prevent the Dreaded Techno Tantrum

By Dr Kristy Goodwin

Posted  May 30 2017 | 0 Shares

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One of the most frustrating problems facing modern parents is the techno tantrum. This is the tantrum that often results when children are asked to turn off Minecraft, or pass back mum or dad’s tablet device. It isn’t limited to toddlers and pre-schoolers, either: As a children’s technology and development researcher, I’ve also observed my fair share of techno tantrums by upper-primary and secondary students (and even adults when they’re asked to switch off their phone on a flight!).

Techno-tantrums are often an inevitable and normal part of development. They’re an emotional storm that children aren’t yet equipped to handle, perhaps because of developing language or emotional skills, or perhaps because of neurobiological changes taking place in the brain. That’s why our job as parents is so critical – we have to show children how to deal with emotions without combusting into fits of tears every time they’re asked to switch off a digital device.

Remember, young children don’t yet have the hindsight or catastrophe scale to deal with certain situations because of limited life experiences, so switching off the iPad probably feels like a 10 on the catastrophe scale for your toddler. Over time and with experience, they’ll soon learn to appreciate that switching devices off isn’t as devastating as it may initially feel.

Whilst the occasional techno tantrum is inevitable (as are other types of tantrums because they are a normal part of a child’s development), there are some simple strategies that parents can implement to minimise their likelihood, severity and/or intensity (and to help keep everyone’s sanity intact).

How to Prevent a Techno Tantrum

  • Establish and enforce firm screen time guidelines

Have firm rules about how much screen time they can have each day. Be explicit about this before they switch on the device – it’s too late once the device is turned on and they’re engrossed in the video game.

  • Focus on quantity, not duration

Time is an abstract concept that many young children simply don’t understand. Rather than enforcing time limits, quantify the number of episodes a child can watch or the level in the game that they can reach. This is much more understandable, especially for young children. Use specific, quantifiable amounts so that there are no ambiguities.

  • Use a timer

Our children are much less likely to argue with a smart phone timer or an egg timer than with us! For older children, media tokens and media contracts are effective and explicit ways to monitor screen time.

  • Provide cues that they need to transition away from the screen

Give children ample warning that they need to switch off the device and don’t storm in the lounge room and demand that the TV is instantly switched off. Children can become engrossed in what they’re doing (they enter the state of flow) so make sure they make eye contact and acknowledge what’s been said.

 

  • Encourage young children to switch the device off themselves

This seems trivial but it’s very different to us quickly or angrily flicking off the TV or prying the tablet from their hands. They’re more likely to feel like they’ve had some control over switching it off while giving us something positive to reinforce and encourage.

 

  • Have a succession plan 

Find an off-screen activity your child will actually enjoy doing when they’ve switched off the device. And no, homework is often not a good motivation to switch off the iPad or TV. Try to find activities that your child finds appealing, so that switching off is not seen as an onerous task. Alternatively create a ‘Bored Board’ (a list of screen-free ideas) from which they can pick an activity to undertake after they’ve switched off the device.

 

  • Be the enforcer

If you still experience a techno tantrum after using the tips above, then it is time to ensure there is a direct consequence such as not allowing the same privilege the next day. This is very effective as our child’s desire to use technology is a very strong motivator for them, especially when they realise that these limits are enforceable. (This is different to using technology as a general form of punishment, which generally isn’t advised as children need to see technology as a tool that’s part of their lives and not as a privilege or reward.)

Again, these strategies won’t necessarily prevent a techno tantrum, but they may help to manage the severity or likelihood of one. The best thing we can do as parents is to establish and enforce consistent rules and expectations about screen time, so that it doesn’t always end in scream time.

Reviewed by Dr Kristy Goodwin 30 May 2017 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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How to Prevent the Dreaded Techno Tantrum

WELLBEING

By Dr Kristy Goodwin

One of the most frustrating problems facing modern parents is the techno tantrum. This is the tantrum that often results when children are asked to turn off Minecraft, or pass back mum or dad’s tablet device. It isn’t limited to toddlers and pre-schoolers, either: As a children’s technology and development researcher, I’ve also observed my fair share of techno tantrums by upper-primary and secondary students (and even adults when they’re asked to switch off their phone on a flight!).

Techno-tantrums are often an inevitable and normal part of development. They’re an emotional storm that children aren’t yet equipped to handle, perhaps because of developing language or emotional skills, or perhaps because of neurobiological changes taking place in the brain. That’s why our job as parents is so critical – we have to show children how to deal with emotions without combusting into fits of tears every time they’re asked to switch off a digital device.

Remember, young children don’t yet have the hindsight or catastrophe scale to deal with certain situations because of limited life experiences, so switching off the iPad probably feels like a 10 on the catastrophe scale for your toddler. Over time and with experience, they’ll soon learn to appreciate that switching devices off isn’t as devastating as it may initially feel.

Whilst the occasional techno tantrum is inevitable (as are other types of tantrums because they are a normal part of a child’s development), there are some simple strategies that parents can implement to minimise their likelihood, severity and/or intensity (and to help keep everyone’s sanity intact).

How to Prevent a Techno Tantrum

  • Establish and enforce firm screen time guidelines

Have firm rules about how much screen time they can have each day. Be explicit about this before they switch on the device – it’s too late once the device is turned on and they’re engrossed in the video game.

  • Focus on quantity, not duration

Time is an abstract concept that many young children simply don’t understand. Rather than enforcing time limits, quantify the number of episodes a child can watch or the level in the game that they can reach. This is much more understandable, especially for young children. Use specific, quantifiable amounts so that there are no ambiguities.

  • Use a timer

Our children are much less likely to argue with a smart phone timer or an egg timer than with us! For older children, media tokens and media contracts are effective and explicit ways to monitor screen time.

  • Provide cues that they need to transition away from the screen

Give children ample warning that they need to switch off the device and don’t storm in the lounge room and demand that the TV is instantly switched off. Children can become engrossed in what they’re doing (they enter the state of flow) so make sure they make eye contact and acknowledge what’s been said.

 

  • Encourage young children to switch the device off themselves

This seems trivial but it’s very different to us quickly or angrily flicking off the TV or prying the tablet from their hands. They’re more likely to feel like they’ve had some control over switching it off while giving us something positive to reinforce and encourage.

 

  • Have a succession plan 

Find an off-screen activity your child will actually enjoy doing when they’ve switched off the device. And no, homework is often not a good motivation to switch off the iPad or TV. Try to find activities that your child finds appealing, so that switching off is not seen as an onerous task. Alternatively create a ‘Bored Board’ (a list of screen-free ideas) from which they can pick an activity to undertake after they’ve switched off the device.

 

  • Be the enforcer

If you still experience a techno tantrum after using the tips above, then it is time to ensure there is a direct consequence such as not allowing the same privilege the next day. This is very effective as our child’s desire to use technology is a very strong motivator for them, especially when they realise that these limits are enforceable. (This is different to using technology as a general form of punishment, which generally isn’t advised as children need to see technology as a tool that’s part of their lives and not as a privilege or reward.)

Again, these strategies won’t necessarily prevent a techno tantrum, but they may help to manage the severity or likelihood of one. The best thing we can do as parents is to establish and enforce consistent rules and expectations about screen time, so that it doesn’t always end in scream time.

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 30 May 2017
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

1 comments

more articles by Dr Kristy Goodwin

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latest articles

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MEET THE EXPERTS

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