How to Watch Television with Your Grandchildren


This article originally appeared in Issue# 45

To older people the world we thought we knew seems to be continually disappearing and electronic media are a large part of the new vistas that continually emerge. In contrast to the relative simplicity of our own childhood, many of us view the media playthings surrounding our grandchildren with awe. VCR cassettes are a long way from crystal radio sets with earphones!

Even more astonishing is our grandchildren's facility with today's hardware and software. My four-year-old grandniece cannot yet read or print her name. But she finds the program listing for Muppet Babies with no difficulty and uses the VCR without a moment's hesitation.

Like many others my age, I have mixed feelings about the proliferation of media in my grandchildren's lives. On the one hand, I burst with pride, admiration and even envy when I see how easily they master the equipment. At the same time I join many other grandparents (and parents as well) in questioning the impact of so much media on their growth and development.

As we remember the limited playthings of a simpler time, we are more inclined to question the "packaged" options marketed for today's children. I wonder, for example, about the value of my grandson's intense concentration for hours at a time on a computerized video game. I can't help contrasting his motionless absorption in the screen with the active, creative self-initiated hours of my own childhood play.

To me and many of my age group, much of what children hear and see on television and experience with media seems so frenetic and loud! But deeper than that, I worry about the commercialism of so much of today's popular culture, the easy violence of too many plots and, yes, the suggestive words and actions that children quickly imitate long before they can possibly experience the depth of human sexuality

Try These Tips


    • Fully express your admiration for your grandchildren's media knowledge and expertise.
    • Show interest in each child's favorite shows and watch them with him or her.
    • Ask well-directed questions to learn what needs and preferences are satisfied by each program. For example: "Do you believe something like that could happen in real life?" "Tell me in your own words what happened" "Can you make up another ending?" Encourage the child to do most of the talking.
    • If a program or an incident in a program seems inappropriate, state what you disagree with and why. Get feedback from the child and discuss this seriously without arguing. Be clear about your values if they differ from values or behavior on TV, in music, etc.
    • Be observant for children having problems with media, e.g., TV-influenced nightmares, violent play, unrealistic demands for advertised toys or food. Work with parents to control the child's media diet; support viewing guidelines when the children are with you.
    • Suggest excursions based on TV themes or provide other supplemental material (books, videos, games) that can expand the TV viewing experience.

Author Bio: 

Ellen DeFranco is a retired teacher and the author of TV: On/Off: Better Family Use of Television.