Skip to main content

Is grandma or grandpa spoiling your child with screen time?

A grandfather and his grandson look at a tablet together.

July 30, 2019—Grandparents spoiling their grandchildren is a time-honored tradition. But how they indulge the kids may be changing. Instead of saying yes to late bedtimes or dessert before dinner, they're giving in to too much screen time, a new study by the Journal of Children and Media suggests.

It looked at the amount of screen time—on phones, tablets, computers or TVs—allowed by grandparents who watched grandchildren ages 2 to 7 at least once a week. It found that during an average four-hour visit, the children spent a full two hours either watching videos or playing games on electronic devices.

Surprisingly, when parents gave specific instructions for screen time, grandparents allowed more of it.

Too much screen time can crowd out activities that help kids thrive. Among them: family time, face-to-face interactions, outdoor playtime and sleep.

Boys, older kids allowed the most screen time

The study also found that:

  • Boys spent slightly more time (an average of 17 minutes more) glued to screens than girls.
  • Kids ages 6 to 7 spent the most time on screens per visit (an average of 143 minutes). Tots ages 2 to 3 used them the least (an average of 98 minutes).
  • Grandfathers allowed more interactive screen time than grandmothers.
  • Grandparents consented to the most screen time while caring for children in their own homes. And they allowed more screen time when kids arrived with a tablet or other device from home.

Set healthy limits

The researchers offer this advice for parents: Supply grandparents with plenty of books and toys to help them keep kids busy without screens.

And they strongly encourage grandparents to keep their grandchildren's well-being in mind and limit screen time. Here's what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:

  • Younger than 18 months. Except for video chats with family and friends, screen time isn't appropriate for children this young.
  • 18 to 24 months. If screen time is allowed, be sure it's high quality. To help kids understand—and learn from—what they're viewing, watch together and talk about the content.
  • 2 to 5 years. Limit screen time to no more than 1 hour every day. Keep watching together and choosing high-quality content. You can also reteach what kids have learned through a screen later in the day.
  • 5 and up. As a child grows, a one-size approach for screen time doesn't work as well. Families can use this tool from the AAP to determine what's best for your child.
Read more breaking news Related stories