Key Takeaways

  • Both grandparents and parents often identify a grandchild’s use of screen time as a cause of tension between generations.

  • It may be easier for young children to learn from real-life interactions than from information delivered through screen time.

  • ZERO TO THREE’s Grand Connections workshop series addresses the needs of grandparents caring for grandchildren under five, including tips and resources for using screen time wisely.

This is the third article in a series about Grand Connections, a free program for grandparents created by ZERO TO THREE.

Screens like TVs, tablets, and smartphones are tightly woven into the fabric of our daily lives. And for many families, that can be a problem. How and when to use screens can be an issue between generations sharing child care, with 36% of parents reporting tension or disagreement with grandparents over screen use1, and 27% of grandparents of young grandchildren reporting similar tension2.

The debate on whether time spent with screens is helpful or harmful to young children has been going on since television entered our homes in the 1950s. According to American Academy of Pediatrics, when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor play, exercise, and even sleep.

Here’s what we know:

  • It's easier for young children to learn from real-life interactions with people and objects than with information delivered via a screen.3
  • Television interrupts children’s play, even when it’s on in the background. And play is considered learning for a young child.4
  • Adults’ technology use gets in the way of talking and connecting with kids. Heavy technology use by parents is associated with lower-quality parent-child interactions.5,6

The fourth grandparent workshop in ZERO TO THREE's Grand Connections series explores grandparents’ attitudes toward their grandchildren’s screen use, provides the latest screen guidance for children under five, and offers tips and resources for using media wisely (including video chat, approved for all ages).

To encourage collaborative, intentional family media use, this workshop includes a handout on how to map out a media plan for the family from the American Academy of Pediatrics. By creating a 'Personalized Family Media Use Plan', grandparents and parents can identify a purpose for screen time. Your identified purpose will help you think about what media should be used and when, what goals you might have as a family during screen time, and also protections/rules to guide your children that all align with your family's values.  

To learn more and to get started on creating your family's media plan, download the entire Grand Connections program free of charge, visit


1. Science Daily, 17 August 2020. Found on the internet at

2. ZERO TO THREE. 2019. The Grand Plan: Executive Summary. Found on the internet at

3. Barr, R., Mcclure, E., and Parlakian, R. 2018. Screen Sense: What the Research Says about the Impact of Media on Children Aged 0-3 Years Old. Found on the internet at

4. Schmidt, M. E., Pempek, T. A., Kirkorian, H. L., Lund, A. F., & Anderson, D. R. 2008. The effects of background television on the toy play behaviors of very young children. Found on the internet at

5. McDaniel, B.T. and Radesky, J.S. 2018. Technoference: longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behavior problems. Found on the internet at

6. McDaniel, B.T., and Radesky, J.S. 2018. Technoference: Parent Distraction With Technology and Associations With Child Behavior Problems. Found on the internet at