Growing up, my Grandmother had a framed needle-point which hung on her kitchen wall that read, "If mother says no, go ask grandmother."  The stitched image which accompanied this quite inspirational (to me then) slogan showed an elderly woman in an apron offering a young boy a handful of candies. 

As folks are scrambling for last minute holiday gifts, kids will no doubt approach their parents and grandparents with a long, technology-heavy wish list. With kids having their own cellphones, grandparents coming online, and both generations using video chat  kids have unprecedented access to their grandparents when it comes to holiday gift requests.  Gone are the days when mom and dad could proofread (and edit) Christmas letters before they were sent over the river and through the woods. 

A recent AARP survey revealed the more than half of grandparents spend over $250 on their grandchildren – primarily in holiday gifts.  But at a time when parents are striving hard to set media limits, do grandparents run the risk of short-circuiting parental priorities?  We've put together a list of five things every parent needs to let their parents know about before they head off to the store.

Video games — It is estimated that 80% of adolescents play video games regularly.  And while M-rated (the M or "Mature" rating is suggested for kids over the age of 17) are among the most popular games sold, tech-savvy parents know that the content is not appropriate for their pre-teens and teens.  Grandparents need to know about these ratings too if they are heading off to the local box store to purchase Johnny's stocking stuffers.  Remind them that the M-rating is akin to the NC-17 rating that is used for motion pictures and in particular, a rating commonly used for soft-core pornography.

Cell phones — Kids are asking for (and getting) cellphones at younger and younger ages.  A number of parents, however, have decided that cellphones may not be right for their young one or that if they do earn one, the child will need to participate in covering the cost or monthly fees.  Before Grandma and Grandpa decide to buy little Jane that iPhone she's been begging for, there needs to be a clear conversation about who will pay the monthly bill, what will Jane need to do each month to earn her cellphone time, and who has the right to set limits and rules about the cell phone's use.

Laptops — Similar to the cellphone issues, laptops also raise a number of questions that will need to be negotiated if grandparents spring for one as a present:  Who will buy the needed software?  Where will it be used?  Who will pay for the Internet connection?  What adult will take responsibility to ensure appropriate behavior online?  Is a grandparent willing to be Facebook friends with Billy to make sure he's keeping his wall clean?

Return policies — Often, electronic goods come with more strict return policies than the purchase of legos.  If grandma and grandpa buy an expensive tech item and then mom and dad disapprove, there may be a hefty restocking fee imposed if the returned item is accepted at all.

Good communication — The heart of each of these issues is strong communication between grandparents and parents.  Reviewing shopping lists before anyone hits the stores is the key to successful gift giving. And electronic gifts often come with a steep price tag, so grandparents should be reminded that there are many other gifts that will be welcomed, including a gift in short supply in our technology saturated lives—an offer to spend time with a grandchild doing something together that will be fun.


Have you had to set limits on Grandma and Grandpa?  As clinicians who work with families, we are interested in both the positive and negative effects of technology use on relationships at each developmental stage. We are interested in the way that digital natives may be using technology in ways that transform aspects of parenting. And we are interested in how family relationships at other stages are being altered by technology.   We are inviting you to participate in The Digital Family Project Survey by clicking here.

Copyright Tristan Gorrindo and Anne Fishel

About the Authors

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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