Helping Your Boomer Parents Into the Digital World

There is no denying that today the world is digital. Kids play, communicate, “hang out”, and share obscure memes in even obscurer apps that go out of fashion before we have a chance to learn about them. We feel somewhat excluded, there is little we can teach them in that department. Even going out is not what it used to be for us, and we cannot give them tips on etiquette of digital romance (how many likes is okay to give your crush without raising suspicions, who is okay to tag on Instagram, and so on). We feel lost, puzzled and, sometimes, a bit helpless.

Imagine how hard it is for our parents. This weekend is as good an occasion as any to help them to be a bit more tech-savvy than they are at the moment. This is not an idle exercise, for technology can improve the quality of life for elderly people and help them to stay in touch with us, with their grandchildren, with the pulse of modern life. If you tried and failed before, just give it another go.

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The Benefits

Sometimes lack of company and new experiences leads to depression. Therefore, the connectivity that technology provides plays an important part in maintaining a positive mindset and good humor. Thanks to technology, grandparents are able to stay in contact with their family, even if they are geographically remote. Grandmothers and grandfathers can stay involved with the life of the youngest family members or reunite with their childhood friends and classmates decades after they have lost touch. Some researchers believe that rich social life actually helps to prevent cognitive decline. There are also other contributing beneficial factors, such as remote counseling, support of communities, the peer-to-peer help of people in similar conditions, and, of course, a chance to reach out to the world.

Technology can be a great tool to compensate for a particular impairment. I would argue here, that almost every piece of technology is assistive if you look at it the right way. Take online shopping – for someone with a limited mobility this is more than a mere convenience – it is their chance for independence. VR-simulators can be more than games. Today they provide various simulations for cognitive therapy and track movement data of elderly users, helping in early diagnosis of various conditions. To say nothing of 3D tours around the world. Just think how thrilled one can be by a virtual stroll down the Champs-Elysees if one never left one’s hometown.

Technology is not a silver bullet – it has its advantages and disadvantages. Still, the variety of tools it offers allows you to choose, after some trial and error, the assistive aid almost for every problem there is. It is important to give your loved ones a chance to benefit from technology because this is so much more than entertainment.

What to Choose

If your parents are not computer literate and you are thinking of presenting them with a device, I would advise a Mac computer because macOS is very intuitive, user-centric and logical, which will shorten the learning curve considerably. It should not be a high-end model, an entry-level will give everything they need – online shopping, some games and quizzed to pass the time, photo sharing, FaceTime calls to the family, e-books, audiobooks, online radio with retro music and so on.
By the way, if an elderly family member is a low-vision or blind, Macs are accessible thanks to the VoiceOver option. There is an entire resource devoted to the tools and software that is accessible for visually impaired Mac users.

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However, if your parents are fairly competent owners of a PC, I would not expect them to re-learn everything anew. It is possible, but the transition can put an extra strain on them and even put them off technology altogether. In such case, it is better to proceed from where they already are. After all, the point is to make them comfortable with digital tools. My grandparents are quite sharp, but being from analog era, it took them some time to adjust.

Often people do not know what they need until they see it. Discuss what your parents would want – get access to news, watch classic films, be able to read articles on chosen topics, shop online, keep contact with their classmates that moved to another country? Then do some research and offer them a ready-made package of useful apps meet those needs.
Do not forget to install software for subsequent maintenance. A distant administrating app (TeamViewer and such) can be a live-savior. If you pair your device with your grandparents’ computer beforehand, later you can fix anything that “does not seem to work” in just a few clicks.

A simple cleaning app is also a good idea. Your grandparents hardly will bother with cleaning cashes and logs and other routines to speed up their old Mac, whereas an app running in the background will do the job seamlessly and they will be spared of freezing, lagging and similar nuisance.

Getting Started

When setting up is complete, place the icons of the apps your mom and dad are actually going to use on the desktop to make them always visible and readily available. Add the sites they are going to frequent to the bookmarks and teach them how to bookmark something new as well. In my experience, people from analog era tend to struggle with typing in the name of a site or even search for it in Google. They prefer to save it and keep it somewhere at their fingertips – just as they use to do with a book or sticky notes.

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Show them how to use the apps or sites you have installed (bookmarked). Start from the fun things – games or photos. Then make sure they do in on their by themselves. Turn the computer on, launch a game, click, drag, etc. Repeat instructions – this will be very helpful if your grandparent is an audial learner. Together you may come up with some mnemonic clue – they worked wonders for many generations of learners. You can share your own experiences from the times you were learning, tell them a funny story about how you messed up and sent an email to a wrong contact or something like that. This will help them to feel more confident, lift the fear of failure.

Print out step-by-step instructions if your parents struggle to remember where exactly they will find a particular file or how do they launch an app. For my mother, I have made several of those and placed them under the cover glass on her desk, so she could not misplace or lose them among books and notes.

Now you can stay in touch with your dear ones and send them hugs and kisses all the funny emoji together with your holiday photos. However, do not forget, that a quality and depth of a connection are by far more important than the quantity. Therefore, it is fine for your dad to have only ten friends on social media (eight of which are the family), as long as he enjoys meaningful conversations, your loving care, and presence – both online and off.

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