Times have changed. Life is more serious for today’s children: they have learned about the impact of humans on the earth, food allergies, and the need for sunscreen and antibacterial soap. Supervised far more closely than in years past, they have play dates rather than spontaneous pick-up games, are delivered by car to most destinations, and rarely play outside their own backyard. They are tightly scheduled with structured sports programs, daycare, music lessons, and academic tutoring to “keep up.” And the children of today are bombarded with TV and movie characters: on their clothing, their backpacks, their toys, and even birthday party themes. Today’s preschoolers are robbed of the freedom to make individual choices.
But some things never change. In spite of the differences in the world for young children today, their needs remain the same. Your grandchild needs the same kind of love and attention you gave his parent. He needs free time—time to explore, experiment, make choices and make mistakes. Most of all, he needs time to play. His play is his work, and it is how he learns and makes sense of his world. Young children deserve time to be children.
Experts are concerned about screen time. Every day, we continue to discover more about how children learn. Anthropologist Melvin Konner in The Evolution of Childhood concludes that play is nature’s primary means for developing the brain. Now more than ever, in this high tech society, children who sit passively in front of screens (TV, computers, handheld games, and smart phones) are robbed of valuable playtime. Furthermore, excessive time in front of a screen can impair a child’s learning potential, lead to dependency on passive entertainment, and promote an addiction to fast-paced, constantly changing visual stimulation. Attention spans should lengthen as children age, but if youngsters become overly accustomed to short action/short response scenarios, they may be unable to hold a thought or concentrate for very long.
Grandparents can play a role in healthy development. Parents having one-on-one time with children is a limited luxury in many homes today. This is where a caring grandparent comes in. Bring out the crayons, blocks, and other open-ended toys. Be attentive and patient answering endless “Why?” questions. Feeling energetic? Play tag, throw a ball, or take your grandchild for a walk. Most of all, be there for him—someone he can talk to and laugh with. Your time, attention, and unconditional affection are the most important gifts you can give.
The bottom line: Children’s face-to-face interaction with adults is critical. You cannot fight the influence of screens completely, but you can offer your grandchild a healthy, fun alternative for his mind and body and a haven from the onslaught of commercialism when he is with you. Turn off any and all screens and be fully present to play with your grandchild, and you will both reap the benefits.
Need ideas for games, music, books and art? Check out The Grammie Guide for over 500 ideas for indoor and outdoor activities for fun with young ones. It will prove an indispensable resource for ways to spend precious time and build wonderful memories with the young children in your life.