The other day we had plans to go to a park with some friends.
My kids had been playing Minecraft on their tablets for a little while as I was finishing up some laundry. I had given them the five minute warning. “Hey guys, it’s time to start wrapping up. We’ve got to leave soon for the park. You’ve got five minutes to finish what you’re doing and then shut down.”
After I put the last folded clothes away, I walked into the living room. They probably had gotten a few extra minutes of screen time, so I thought for sure we were good.
“Okay, time to turn it off, we’ve got to go.”
“But Mom,” my older one pleaded. “I’m working on this really cool house and I just need to build the last room.”
“I’m sure you can do it later, our friends are waiting for us.”
All of a sudden, my son started screaming.
“I don’t want to go the park!” he yelled as he threw himself onto the floor. He was holding onto his tablet for dear life and looking at me like some kind of crazed animal.
Of course, his younger sister was watching this all go down and felt like she had to show solidarity with her brother. So, she too began crying and insisting that she didn’t want to go to the park either.
I wish I could say this was our first experience with tech tantrums, but they were a pretty common occurrence in our home.
Seriously, I was SO OVER IT.
I was about ready to go find every device we owned and take them all to the trash. But I knew that wasn’t the answer.
I’m a realist and I know technology is a part of our kids lives today. It isn’t going away, and it isn’t all bad. What I wanted to figure out was how to find a healthy balance for my family with all the tech.
I knew it had to start with stopping the tech tantrums. But how?
Transitions are hard for kids, we know that.
Heck, sometimes they are hard for adults.
That’s how the whole “five more minute” warning technique got started. We thought surely, giving kids a fair heads up that one activity was going to come to end soon and it would be time to move on would be sufficient to keep them from losing their sweet minds.
Well, not so much.
Here’s the problem.
That five minute warning is really only part of the equation.
We’re missing the first and last step.
First, we should be setting screen time expectations for kids.
You see, before we even get to that whole “five more minute” thing, we need to be setting expectations about screen time for our kids and what behavior we’re expecting from them when we give them that warning.
A great way to do this is by establishing family technology rules. Keep them simple when your kids are little and then add to them as they get older.
When it comes to the whole “turn it off” tantrum situation, here are the basics that you want to communicate to your children.
- Screen Time Will Have Limits. You Will Know What Those Limits Are
- We Will Give You A Warning Before Screen Time Ends
- When Screen Time Is Over, You Will Not Whine, Yell Or Negotiate More Time
- We Have Tech Limits Because You Also Need To Do Active Things To Stay Healthy
Once these expectations are set, make sure whenever your child has tech time you do a super quick review.
“Yes, you can absolutely play Minecraft. Remember you have a 30 minutes. I’ll give you a warning when it’s getting close to time to finish up. Once time is up, I expect that you’ll turn it off without getting upset.”
Now, with younger children it can sometimes help to set a timer that they can see. Pick up an inexpensive one at the grocery store, use your microwave timer or if you’re not using you’re phone you could set your phone with the timer going so they can see.
Also, using parental control apps like Circle with Disney can be helpful. Parental control apps let you determine a set amount of time children can spend on certain games, apps, devices, etc. When the time is up, the parental control app simply shuts it down for you. As crazy as this abrupt stop may sound, kids sometimes react better to an integrated end time, then when it comes from you.
They feel in more of a position to negotiate with you, but they can’t really negotiate with the device.
Okay, but the last step is the MOST important part of putting an end to tech tantrums forever.
Clearly communicated and consistently enforced consequences.
Once they understand our expectations about screen time, our children need to know what will happen if they don’t meet these expectations.
When they are little, we come up with the consequences. But as our kids get older, we should involve them in deciding what those consequences might be. You’ll be surprised to discover that kids will often choose harsher outcomes that we ever would.
Once the consequences have been set and clearly communicated to the child, then it’s up to us to consistently enforce those consequences.
A simple and logical consequence for a younger child is that the device will be put away and they won’t be allowed to use it again for a set amount of time. A day is usually sufficient.
If you’ve got older kids, they may lose the privilege of playing a certain game for a period of time or maybe an app gets deleted from their phone temporarily.
I know for some parents this can be really hard.
Yes, sometimes children’s meltdowns are absolutely emotional. They are having trouble coping and they need us to be sympathetic and caring in helping them resolve their inner conflict.
But sometimes tech tantrums are 100% manipulation. This tends to be the case when we as parents have not been consistent in setting and following through with consequences.
Provided your child doesn’t have special needs which require a different parenting approach, most children can learn the self control required to transition from screen time to other activities with minimal to no outbursts. Yes, even your toddlers.
In fact, working with them on this can be an excellent way to help them develop coping skills around managing their frustrations.
I am a huge fan of using the practices taught in the book “Parenting With Love And Logic:Teaching Children Responsibility” I’ve used this with my kids from toddler to teen with great success.
The book advocates that parents don’t nag or yell or get angry when their children about their choices and behavior. Instead, you meet the child with empathy and clear consequences.
So, using Love and Logic, if you’ve progressed to the point that your child is having a “turn it off” tantrum, you can reply in this way.
“I know you wanted to keep playing and I see you’re frustrated. I’m sad for you that we’re going to have to put this away for a day. I’m sure next time you’ll be able to turn it off without so much fuss.”
Once you’ve provide your Love and Logic response, walk away and put the device out of sight.
Tech Time Out
So, you put the device away, took a few deep breaths, and yet you hear your child wailing away in the other room.
Ignore it a bit longer and continue to act cool and calm (fake it ’til you make it)
You can also walk back in the room, but don’t acknowledge the child at first. You may find he/she recovers enough to plead for their device again, but when you inform them that it has been put away for the day, they return to the tantrum.
You can attempt to redirect them when they ask about their device by saying, “The device is away for the day, but why don’t we go for a walk, color a picture, play a game.” Moving them to something active has been proven to be a successful way to transition children away from tech without the typical struggles.
But if they insist on continuing the tech tantrum, don’t try to solve it or continue to offer solutions. You’re not doing anything wrong. They are simply experiencing the unpleasant result of their choice.
If it truly becomes an epic tantrum or if the child keeps having tantrums even after the expectations and consequences have been made clear and consistently enforced, it may be time for a tech break.
Sometimes children need time for the brains to re-boot, so to speak. A longer period of time off the technology can help stop a pattern of behavior and give you a chance to re-establish ground rules. Usually a week is the minimum amount of time needed and it could be up to a month.
When re-introducing tech privileges, start small and give the child the opportunity to earn more tech time.
“I’m excited for you, because I think you’re ready to try again. We’re going to start with 15 minutes. If when it’s time to turn it off, you cooperated, tomorrow you’ll get five more minutes.”
Let’s be honest, it’s more than just the tech tantrums.
Stopping the “Turn It Off” battles in my family was such a relief. I knew that throwing away all our tech was not the solution. My husband and I both have jobs that involve tech and we honestly see ways that technology helps our kids and enriches their education. Plus, that’s some pretty expensive stuff to just put in the trash.
But there were more problems than just the tech tantrums. I found myself constantly feeling guilty about how much time my kids were spending on screens, I was worried about what they might see online accidentally, and as they got older I didn’t know exactly how to keep them safe online.
Oh, and not to mention now that I have a teen, how the heck do you to talk to them about sexting, nude selfies and porn.
It was overwhelming, and I could see through my work as a blogger and all the time I spent online that other parents were struggling too.
That is why another mom and I co-wrote Screen Time Sanity: The Crazy Easy Guide To Doing Technology With Your Kids.
This book will help you find that healthy tech balance and restore peace to your homes.
it provides simple strategies to make all this tech stuff… well Crazy Easy!
You can DISCONNECT your kids from their devices and RECONNECT them to you. We’ll show you how.