Children Spend Half of Their Time With Grandparents In Front of a Screen

Updated: July 24, 2019
Children under their grandparents’ care spend about half of that time on screens, according to a new study. Here are the reasons why, and what you can do as a parent to minimize screen time with grandparents.
A child playing on an ipad with her grandmother

Children under their grandparents’ care spend about half of that time on screens, according to a new study. The amount of screen time that grandparents’ allow exceeds the current recommendations by twofold. 

Researchers looked at how children aged two through seven spent their time with their grandparents. They found that grandparents who watched their grandchildren over a 40-hour time period allowed them about two hours of screen time. 

More: An Open Letter to Grandparents: That Was Then, This is Now

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to one hour of high-quality programming per day. Grandparents, who have long been known for spoiling their grandchildren, are exceeding this limit. 

Why are Grandparents Breaking the Rules?

The researchers took a deeper look at why grandparents allow so much screen time. Grandparents view their role as the “fun” caretaker. However, the reasons go further than this. 

Coming from an older generation, grandparents are simply less familiar with today’s digital world. They have less experience with tablets and interactive video games. Interestingly, when parents gave grandparents instructions on how to use the technology, grandparents were more likely to allow excessive viewing. 

Grandparents gave boys and older children more screen time, and allowed more of it when caring for their grandchildren in their own home, instead of the children’s. This suggests that grandparents were lacking in alternative ways to entertain the kids and keep them busy. 

Lastly, grandparents are older and have less energy. They simply needed a break, and screens were an easy way to get one. 

Helping Grandparents Set Boundaries With Screen Time

Excessive screen time is not good for children’s development. Overuse causes a variety of problems, such as affecting sleep and increasing the risk of childhood obesity. According to FamilyEducation Expert Katie Pitts of Sleepwise Consulting, too much screen time stimulates the brain, leading to trouble falling and staying asleep. This causes a host of problems from irritability to difficulty learning.

Parents who rely on their own parents for childcare ought to take steps to ensure their children are staying within the recommended limits. 

It is essential for parents to clearly communicate their screen time rules. Writing out a family media use plan and going over it with grandparents is a good place to start. Creating a schedule and penciling screen time in at a set time can help too. 

The researchers suggest that grandparents who set firm screen time limits with their grandchildren are most successful in sticking with the recommended amounts. Limits proposed include no screen time before bed or during meals, and not exceeding one hour per day. 

The fact that grandparents showed more screen time while caring for grandchildren in their own homes, instead of the children's, suggests they do not have access to other activities for kids. Parents can help grandparents by providing toys, books, and games to bring along or even leave at the grandparents’ home for use there. 

While a small amount of high-quality screen time benefits kids and provides grandparents a needed rest, children have other developmental needs that should be attended to. Screen time should not impede on getting enough rest (10-12 hours per night) or getting enough physical exercise daily (120 minutes, 60 of which are vigorous). Those activities do not necessarily need to happen while under the grandparents’ care, but families should look at the full day and make sure they are met. 

Here is an example of a schedule for grandparents taking care of preschool children in the afternoon:

  • 12:30-1:00 Lunchtime
  • 1:00-2:00 Nap or quiet time
  • 2:00-3:00 Outdoor play and a snack
  • 3:00-3:30 Books and puzzles
  • 3:30-4:30 Screen time

Here is an example for grandparents taking care of school-aged children in the afternoon:

  • 3:00-4:00 Outdoor play and a snack
  • 4:00-5:00 Homework time
  • 5:00-6:00 Screen time
  • 6:00-6:30 Board games and puzzles
  • 6:30-7:00 Reading time
     

To get started managing screen time, consider downloading and printing a weekly screen time log to be used at home and at the grandparents’ home.