By Nancy LeBrun
If your parents are over 65 and not connected to the Internet, they have a lot of company. Some 40% of the older population isn't online, according to the Pew Research Center. The reasons vary, but as we age, we tend to develop a preference for the familiar, experience a loss of confidence in our ability to learn and may have concerns about expenses.
Research also shows, however, that many older adults get big benefits out of personal technology once they've made the leap. In addition to helping them stay in touch and engaged, it can give you peace of mind - you know your parents can reach you if they need to. If you'd like to see mom or dad get connected, here are some ways you can encourage them to join the technology revolution.
1. Show, don't tell.
A speech about how important it is for them to have a cell phone so they can call you if they're sick or hurt may not do the trick. Instead, when you're visiting, show them how to swipe to see an old family photo. Play a short online game with them. Have a grandchild text a picture. You know what is likely to pique your parents' interest, so gear your demo to that. Motivate them by showing them the wonders of connectivity.
2. Take it step by step.
When mom or dad expresses interest in trying out a device, set aside some time to take them through the basics. Show them how to get to the home screen and teach them one or two gestures, like tapping or swiping. After each demonstration, let them practice as much as they need to. If you overwhelm a senior with too many features and apps, it may intimidate them because they often feel they are too old to learn something new. Your job is to break it down into manageable pieces.
3. Figure out a game plan for instruction.
If your own schedule is jam-packed, look for technology courses designed for older adults. An increasing number of communities offer older learner workshops and you can also investigate online courses. Most are reasonably priced, and they can be a nice way for your parents to socialize while they're learning a new skill.
4. Discuss options and costs.
Help your parents choose the right device. Simpler is better, so forget the bells and whistles. GreatCall's easy-to-use cell phones and medical alert devices are straightforward, so they'll feel comfortable using them daily. Older Americans may have an inaccurate idea of costs; you can help them compare fees. Talk about options that don't involve a long-term commitment if they're concerned about getting locked in. And, be ready to help them complete the required forms.
5. Bring your patience.
It can be frustrating for an older adult to find they can't learn something quickly – it's embarrassing and can make them angry or upset. Let them vent and then offer encouragement and support. Explain that everyone has a learning curve. Point out what they did right – look at that great picture they just took - and assure them that, with a little practice, they're likely to get the hang of it. You can also explain that even if they go down a rabbit hole, they can simply close an app or go back to the home screen – no harm done.
6. Set up a “tech support" system.
Make a date to help set up a new device, but don't take over. Let mom or dad do as much as they can. Inevitably, there will be times down the line when they're going to need help. Be prepared for how you'll provide support. Be sure to arrange a safe place to store passwords and keep a copy for yourself. Make sure your parents are aware of the pitfalls of browsing, so they aren't vulnerable to scams or invasions of privacy.
Older adults learn best one-on-one, in a hands-on way, as most of us do. Small steps work best and positive reinforcement can help overcome a lack of confidence. With a bit of time and practice, your parents can become confident and connected.
Read more about the benefits of technology and the aging brain.