The Science Behind Carrots&Cake

Carrots&Cake was designed bottom-up with science-based solutions. Our team included neuroscientists and child psychologists. This was important to us because the most widely-used and popular apps for kids are habit-forming. Child users are vulnerable. They haven’t yet developed their pre-frontal cortex — the area of the brain that controls self-regulation skills. So we challenged ourselves to come up with solutions that limited kids’ exposure to addictive stimulation.

Other screen time apps work by setting simple time limits. But that only addresses one part of the problem. It ignores the fact that kids’ brains work differently. With those other apps, kids can still immerse themselves in habit-forming environments that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway of their brains. Then, when the child’s time is up, the app cuts them off. The instant disconnection results in tantrums, frustration, and demands for more screen time.

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At Carrots&Cake, we address these issues head-on. First, kids must engage in learning apps that their parents choose. After they finish, their device is unlocked for a predetermined amount of free time and play. Rather than being rewarded instantly — a hallmark of habit-forming programs — kids engage in activities that require a high cognitive load (i.e. lots of thinking). This achieves important outcomes. 

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After kids finish their educational apps — what we call “carrots” — their device unlocks, and they receive free time to surf the internet, play games, or stream videos — what we call “cake.” Carrots&Cake believes in giving kids agency, allowing them to choose their own activities during this time. Online play has many benefits and is most advantageous when kids are immersed. We think of this stage as a state of “flow.” However, as we described earlier, kids do not yet have the self-regulation skills to know when it’s time to stop playing. 

Helping kids get off screens was the second issue Carrots&Cake tackled. Kids do not have a good sense of time, especially when they are in the flow state. Who hasn’t heard, “One more minute please?” Carrots&Cake has a number of interventions that help kids exit the flow state and end screen time while minimizing withdrawal and tantrums. 

  1. A visual, on screen timer reflects how much free time the child has remaining
  2. Reminders pop up when kids reach their final 5 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute
  3. Screen time ends with suggestions of creative, offline activities
  4. We are working toward making the screen less stimulating as the free time concludes (e.g. reducing brightness, moving from color to black and white, reducing the volume). This helps kids to disengage with time is up.
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We’ve discovered that most parents find the Carrots&Cake App when they’ve reached the end of their rope. Kids initially had free reign on their devices but their behavior got out of hand. Parents may have tried other screen time controls. However, those apps don’t work to change the root of the child’s behavior. Instead, they provoke a psychological concept called “reactance”. Children behave negatively because they lack control and are being told what to do. Carrots&Cake approaches the situation differently, we use a technique called Motivational Interviewing. It helps to create a direct dialogue between parents and children that identifies the child’s values. A key benefit to this is that it gets results quickly and efficiently and allows children to buy-in to the Carrots&Cake program in a manner that empowers them. 

Carrots&Cake subscribes to behavioral science/design thinking principles. Simply put, the fewer choices children face, the easier it is for them to focus on the task at hand. Parents help their children design their Carrots&Cake screen environment, removing distractions and promoting learning.

Overall, setup is easy once done. Parents can choose from learning apps they already own or they can ask for suggestions. We have researched which apps are most effective at improving attention, spatial, memory, and educational abilities and also work well with the Carrots&Cake platform. 

At Carrots&Cake we want children and parents to succeed. We believe that with the right tools, screens can enrich family life in a healthy and happy way. Please reach out if you have any questions. 

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