Taming the Techno Tantrum
Parents often brace themselves for the inevitable meltdown when its time to put the iPad away. Prying technology out of children’s’ hands is a practice that is common in many family homes. The tears, outbursts and sometimes aggressive behaviours from kids can be enough to want to put all technology in the bin! If you feel this way, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
So, why do kids suffer from the dreaded ‘techno tantrum’, and what can we do about it?
Why does it happen?
To put it simply, kids can experience techno tantrums for a few different reasons. The first is because of what's happening in their brain. Another is to do with abrupt distruptions to obtaining goals, and another is screen time. Of course, research suggests that there are likely more reasons, but these three are the ones we currently understand the most (from a research point of view).
The Brain & Goal Interruption
Many screen time activities require reaching goals or endpoints. All games, for example, have some sort of goal that children will be trying to achieve, whether it be winning a level or getting enough points to earn some sort of prize. Alternatively, even videos have an endpoint (which of course, is usually the end of the video!). Our brains thrive when we are goal-orientated, releasing dopamine (the neurotransmitter associated with joy) when we obtain that goal. Our brains are also more focussed when we are goal-orientated, which often results in information from the external environment around fading into the background.
So, when kids are interrupted within their ‘screen goal’, it can be both emotionally and cognitively shocking. The brain is on a path to achieve the goal, and the emotional disappointment is very frustrating, often resulting in outburst and anger.
A recent study found that for young kids who spend more than 2 hours attached to a screen without a break, are more likely to display irritability and emotional outbursts when screens are taking away. The sweet spot for young children was an hour or less, which resulted in kids being less grouchy after technology was removed.
Because screen time offers so much depth of stimuli (resulting in visual & audio processing, and engagement in decision-making and other cognitive functions), kids can become overstimulated and experience sensory overload. This can result in erratic behaviours and emotional outbursts. This is exacerbated when kids are using multiple devices at once, or jumping between lots of different screen-based activities.
So, what are some things you can you do to tame the digital tantrum?