Giving screens to children may only delay their tantrums

Handing a screen to a child mid-tantrum may calm them down momentarily – but it could cause more anger management issues as they grow up, according to new research.

The study, published in Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that children who were more frequently calmed with digital devices were more likely to have trouble regulating their emotions a year later.

“Here we show that if parents regularly offer a digital device to their child to calm them or to stop a tantrum, the child won’t learn to regulate their emotions,” says first author Dr Veronika Konok, a researcher at Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary.

“This leads to more severe emotion-regulation problems, specifically, anger management problems, later in life.”

The researchers surveyed 265 parents of children aged between 2 and 5, both 2020 and a year later in 2021. Parents were asked about their and their child’s media use, including how frequently they gave a child a digital device when they were having a tantrum.

“We frequently see that parents use tablets or smartphones to divert the child’s attention when the child is upset. Children are fascinated by digital content, so this an easy way to stop tantrums and it is very effective in the short term,” says senior author Professor Caroline Fitzpatrick, a researcher at the Université de Sherbrooke, Canada.

The researchers found that parents who used this “digital emotional regulation” more frequently in 2020 also reported worse anger management and self-control in their children in 2021.

“Tantrums cannot be cured by digital devices,” says Konok.

“Children have to learn how to manage their negative emotions for themselves. They need the help of their parents during this learning process, not the help of a digital device.”

The researchers emphasise that parents need support to help their children’s emotional development.

“Based on our results, new training and counselling methods could be developed for parents,” says Fitzpatrick.

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