Fun-loving grandparents sometimes bend the rules when babysitting their grandchildren. A recent study confirms that one particular "treat" is becoming even more popular, and it's not candy or a later bedtime.

Catherine MacBride

It can be hard for grandparents to resist giving their grandchildren what they want, especially if it’s something the grandchild isn’t normally allowed to do. Having candy, staying up late, eating dessert for dinner—these are all special treats that grandparents have long spoiled grandchildren with. But times change, and tastes of grandchildren do as well. Today’s version of staying up late? Letting kids have screen time.

A new study from researchers at Rutgers University looked at the amount of screen time—which could be phones, tablets, or television—permitted by grandparents who watch grandchildren at least once a week. During an average four-hour visit, grandparents let their grandchildren watch videos and play games on various screens for two hours.

There’s good news, though. Candy is actually a pretty good analogue for screen time. Depending on amount and type, screen time (and candy) is perfectly fine for kids. There are plenty of educational videos and games out there, and even the most time-wasting, intellect-free videos and games can be harmless, providing they’re appropriate and not taking up hours and hours of a kid’s day.

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What the study also found was that grandparents are sometimes suffering from a lack of understanding about exactly what’s going on with their grandkids and their screens. According to the researchers, most grandparents do not feel confident in managing how their grandkids spend their screen time, partly because it just isn’t something they’re used to dealing with. Chances are, their own kids grew up in a time where there weren’t tablets for little eyes to be glued to.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help manage and reduce screen time for grandchildren. Your grandkid’s parents are likely to understand what their child watches, and both which content and how much of it is appropriate. Before babysitting, ask them how much screen time is allowed, what shows or games are OK, and if there are any other guidelines you should know about. 

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The researchers also found that setting firm limits, like one hour of screen time, generally worked in reducing zombie mode for grandchildren. You can also sub in other forms of entertainment that aren't screen-based like board games, books, or non-digital toys. Kids like those, too, just as kids always have. Plus, a family game night lets everyone play together.

So the next time the grandkids are over, be mindful of how much time they're playing on that phone or tablet, and feel empowered to take it away. After a while, anyway; it’s still nice to have treats sometimes!

This story originally appeared on Better Homes & Gardens

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