Grandparenting in the Digital Age: What Grandchildren Actually Need (hint: it’s not your smartphone)

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Earlier this year, I joined the ranks of the white-haired, wise sages who’ve gone before me: Grandparents. Except, I am neither white-haired nor do I possess the wisdom of a sage. I am a Gen X-er who is barely hanging onto my thirties and still raising six children in my home. Other than my thoughtful process to select my “grandmother name” as Mimi, I felt in no way equipped to be a grandparent.

But then, what is really required of a grandparent other than loving, spoiling, and the occasional babysitting duty? Well, in our modern times of rapidly advancing media and technology, it turns out more intentionality is required than ever before.

1.Grandparent’s Activity Apathy

Grandparents have forever passed down their knowledge, skills, talents, stories, recipes, cherished heirlooms, and beloved heritage down to grandchildren. Now that 7 in 10 American Baby Boomers own a smartphone[1], something strange has happened. Instead of enthusiastically engaging in shared activities, grandparents are apathetically passing down their phones to entertain their grandchildren.

DON’T DEFAULT TO DIGITAL

No one wants to be the mean grandparent who says no to their grandchildren. Understandably, you want to be loved and adored. The one surefire way to ensure your epic grandparent status is to give your grandkids what they want: screens.

Whether they ask for it or not, defaulting to a screen for their entertainment can be harmful to both of you. Children do not need perpetual entertainment. Anyone can employ a digital babysitter; the joy of grandparenting is found in relationship.

TEACH WHAT YOU KNOW AND LOVE

YouTube can teach everything. A love for the skill, however, is developed as a child works together with their grandparent. They need to feel your intentional presence as you work side by side, listen to your gentle and confident voice as you instruct through storytelling, and see your heart as you passionately pour into their life. Whatever it is that you know, love, and enjoy: teach it to your grandchildren!

2. Grandparent’s Digital Distraction

There is no denying we are all digitally distracted and dependent. The question that will remain unknown for many years is how this distraction and dependency affects children’s growth and development. One fact we know is that children are watching, learning, and imitating everything they see both parents and grandparents do with their screens.

With 17 percent of Baby Boomers admitting they go online ‘almost constantly’, the days of their assumed tech-ignorance are over.[2] If not careful, instead of digital distractions interrupting our time and activities with grandchildren, the children themselves will become the distraction to grandparent’s time online.

MORE IS CAUGHT THAN TAUGHT

As grown adults with experience and wisdom, grandparents cannot neglect modeling healthy and respectful screen use. No game of Candy Crush or Facebook post is important enough to take your attention away. Keep your smartphone, tablet, and laptop away when the grand kids are over. Life is too short to be looking down while they grow up.

THEY NEED AND WANT A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU

Child development is relational. Your grandchildren do not need your gift of a new tablet or the extended screen time you allow compared to Mom and Dad. They need to connect with you, know you, learn about your life, hold your hand, hear your stories, and experience your friendship.

3. Grandparent’s Internet Ignorance

Baby boomers once showed trepidation towards the world wide web. Now, a vast majority believe having high-speed internet access at home is important or even essential.[3] Marketing research shows 82 percent of Baby Boomers have at least one social media account [4 ] and they spend an average of 27 hours online per week.[5] While 27 hours may not sound like internet ignorance, nearly half of them still need help setting up their internet, devices, and accounts.

THE INTERNET NEEDS A FILTER

Many grandparents have no idea how to check or monitor internet history, a fact children can exploit. Adding to this danger, children know how to delete all traces of where they’ve been on the internet. Therefore, grandparents must utilize internet filters. Each browser can be filtered individually, or filter your entire network with a product like Circle.  If you don’t know how to install them….(see the next point).

HIRE AN ADULT

Young children most likely know more than their grandparents when it comes to navigating computer settings, passwords, online accounts. Relying on their knowledge and perceived expertise as your tech support, however, grants entirely way too much control and access. When you need tech help, call on your adult child or hire a professional. Just because kids today have internet know-how, does not mean they are internet-mature.

4. Grandparent’s Restriction Responsibility

Grandparents tend to view all media as positive or at least neutral for their grandchildren. All too often, sweet-talking grandchildren hoodwink their grandparents into allowing what Mom and Dad have restricted.

[GRAND]PARENTAL CONTROLS

Parental controls are not only for parents. Any device a child may use should have restrictions enabled. Apple products provide a robust amount of build-in restrictions that can protect children without limiting the grandparent. Android devices do not have as many restrictions built in but they can utilize free parental controls such as Norton App Lock to accomplish limits.

Furthermore, children should not have access to download new apps on to their grandparent’s phone freely. Limit access to the iTunes and Google Play store, whether through disabling access or changing the password.

WORK TOGETHER

Mutual media standards and open communication between parents and grandparents can build positive character. Grandparents can best aid in managing their grandchildren’s media and device use by proactively asking for approved apps, time limitations, YouTube allowance, movie ratings, video game permissions, etc.

Most especially, grandparents should seek agreement with their adult children before purchasing a new phone, tablet, console, or video game as a gift for their grandchild. The old adage, What happens at grandma’s stays at grandma’s is only true with sugary treats – not screens.

Conclusion

Parents may wisely ban screens from mealtime, but too often children see ‘grandparents’ staring at phones while eating at a restaurant instead of enjoying companionship. The value of screen-free relationships is weakened as children rationalize: if it’s okay for them, it’s okay for me.

It’s not okay for any of us. We all have great strides to make in recognizing and modifying our own media habits and influence.

While screens may be entertaining and used educationally, they hold little value compared to relationships. At the end of any day, hours on a screen doesn’t sustain a child’s – or senior adult’s – emotional and mental well-being like bonding over shared experiences together.

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Kelly Newcom

Kelly Newcom

Kelly is author of the book, Managing Media Creating Character, and the founder and executive editor of Brave Parenting. She is a mother of 7 foster-adopted children ages 10-20. Kelly is passionate to help others bravely parent counter to culture and societal norms. She believes parenting is Kingdom work and must be done with the courage and bravery of a warrior of God.

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