Grandparents have long indulged their grandchildren with sweets, toys and late bedtimes, often to the dismay of the parents stuck in the middle. But concerns about screen time and cellphone usage are creating a whole new set of issues.
When they hear that the grandparents are giving the children extra screen time, parents debate whether to lay down the law or let it go. Grandparents themselves are wondering: What’s the big deal? Usually, neither side wants to rock the boat too much. Grandparents don’t want to lose time with the kids and parents don’t want to lose the babysitting.
But sometimes the indulgences can cause a rift.
D’Ann Palomarez lives with her two young children, ages two and eight. She sticks to early bedtimes for them, limits her 2-year-old’s movie-watching and makes her 8-year-old turn off her phone and iPad an hour before going to sleep. Ms. Palomarez’s mother, however, doesn’t enforce a bedtime or set any limits on screen time.
“Every time I talk to her about it she’s like, ‘Well, I never get to see my grandkids, and they need to have fun with me.’ To her, watching a movie together is connecting. To me, that’s not connecting,” said Ms. Palomarez, who owns a tanning salon in Houston.
Ms. Palomarez’s mother, Debbie Kapsi Potter, said she’s a very active “Mimi” who does outdoor activities with her grandchildren and gets into pillow fights with them. But she admits she’s lenient when it comes to technology and television. One night in January, she allowed her 8-year-old granddaughter to stay up until 2 a.m. on a school night playing games on her iPad. “When I heard D’Ann come in, I told my granddaughter to turn it off. I didn’t want to get busted,” she said.
Ms. Palomarez said she became so frustrated, she recently hired a babysitter to help care for her children on weekends.
Ms. Palomarez said she’d been reluctant to push the issue too much, partly out of guilt because she has needed her mom’s help with child care and partly because her mom had colon cancer a few years ago and she realizes she’s lucky to have her around.
“I don’t know how much time I have on this earth and I want them to have memories of how fun Mimi was,” Ms. Kapsi Potter said of her grandchildren. “That’s what’s important to me. If there’s something they want to watch, I’ll let them. I let them stay up late. They can do whatever they want but set the house on fire.”
Today’s parents, armed with information about screen time and full of fear over how much technology is too much, feel it’s a whole new world that doesn’t compare to what their parents faced in the days before on-demand TV and smartphones.
As both a resident scholar at Brandeis University and the grandmother of 11, Ruth Nemzoff has written books about intergenerational relationships. She said that when her children were young, the concern was that reading comic books and watching television would prevent children from reading books.
The consequences to those fears were minimal, however. Dr. Nemzoff acknowledges that the stakes are higher now. “If you read a comic book, you read a comic book, but if your children go onto the Internet, they could get into a dangerous relationship with someone,” she said.
Sydney Hinds, a mother of three in New Orleans, often relies on her father or in-laws to care for her 3-year-old son while she tends to her 11-month-old twins or works at the children’s clothing store she owns. She doesn’t let her son watch any television at home and only reluctantly allows it when the grandparents babysit. When her son was two, Ms. Hinds’s father let him watch the Disney movie “Pocahontas” and for weeks after, he would grab anything that resembled a sword and yell, “Savages!”
“It got really embarrassing. He’d do that out in public,” Ms. Hinds said. “I felt it was such an inappropriate movie for a 2-year-old to be watching because he didn’t understand what the story was all about.”
More recently, Ms. Hinds said, her son started having bad dreams. She said it began after he watched “The Incredibles,” rated PG for “action violence,” while staying at her father’s home around the holidays.
“I made the mistake of assuming my dad was on the same page as me when he wasn’t,” she said.
Ms. Hinds’s father, Leon Petite, said he respects his daughter’s wishes. He says he has since been more careful about what he lets his grandson watch, but thinks she was overreacting.
“I told her I grew up watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and that I was afraid of that Oz head, but I turned out OK,” Mr. Petite said. “I think it’s OK to be frightened a bit.”
When Ms. Hinds’s in-laws care for her son, usually once a week, he often watches fishing or animal shows on an iPad with his “Pops.” “It’s a difficult world to navigate as a grandparent now,” said the boy’s grandmother, Crystal Coco Hinds. “I guess we’re more relaxed because we’ve been there and done that.”
Still, she said she understands her daughter-in-law’s concerns. She says they don’t let the little boy watch the iPad by himself. “It’s a bonding thing for us,” she said. “It’s also a way for him to calm down from running around and playing with us.”
She lets her grandson pick a movie before bedtime and they snuggle together while watching it. In the morning they watch “Curious George” in bed.
When Ms. Hinds picked up her son from her in-laws’ house after a recent visit, she learned he’d watched two episodes of “Curious George.” She prefers he watch just one, but she said she bit her tongue.
“If I’m going to set boundaries with the grandparents, I need to pick my battles wisely,” she said.
The best approach
Here are some tips for broaching the topic of screen time and technology with your parents when they’re volunteering to watch your kids:
First, show appreciation. Preface any conversation by acknowledging that they’re doing you a favor by babysitting. Dr. Nemzoff, the Brandeis scholar, suggests saying something like this: “I’m so appreciative of you taking care of the kids but I really don’t want them to have a lot of screen time.” Her recommended excuse? “Pediatricians say it’s not good for their brains, and I want to be a good parent just like you were to me.”
Enlist the grandparents’ help. One grandmother Dr. Nemzoff interviewed said she set a timer and that five minutes before it buzzed, she told the child to start wrapping up whatever he was doing on his iPad. After a few days the child began to control his iPad use on his own. “It’s not that the parents were inadequate, but the grandma had more time and also a different voice—she’s not the usual disciplinarian,” Dr. Nemzoff explained.
Make it about the children’s well-being. Sydney Hinds said the best conversations she’s had about screen time have occurred when she’s put her son at the center of the request, such as explaining that he doesn’t sleep well when he watches something scary. “When I say, ‘Hey, we need to do this as a team for him,’” she said it’s effective.
Provide alternatives. Grandparents might need a break from entertaining a child all day, so it’s a good idea to send along a quiet activity, like books or crafts, that can occupy the child while giving the grandparents a rest.
Source: The Wall Street Journal