Teach Your Parents Well on Technology

Many baby boomers will recall the classic “Teach Your Children” as recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in 1970 (ouch, was it THAT long ago?).

Those who are younger may have been introduced to the song in the Glee finale, where it was sung by THE teacher, Will Schuester.

The time will come — if it hasn’t already — for many of us to turn that around and teach our parents and grandparents to become friendly with the technology that will improve their lives and enable their independence as they grow older.

Not all seniors need our help, of course. In fact, we find that some seniors know more about technology than their children and could do the teaching themselves.

Yes, we’ve been helping our senior loved ones discover and learn about new tech, such as smartphones and tablets, already. Understanding those devices and making them an integral part of life are the gateway to other technologies we will all find essential at some point.

Essential Technologies for Living

Many of us — admit it now — already find our smartphones and tablets to be essential parts of our lives. No, it’s not just the digital natives who feel this way. We may not have been born digital, but we’ve been naturalized into the digital world.

Essential technology for senior living starts with the smartphone or tablet, the heart of the digital ecosystem, but goes far beyond that. There are a number of advances in technology available already and many more innovations about which we look forward to learning more next year at CES®.

Depending on the health, safety, independence, and comfort needs of each senior, there are a number of technology areas that may be “essential” to them now or later in their lives, such as:

  • Communications technologies to stay in touch with family, friends, healthcare providers, and the world
  • Medication devices that provide cross-checking, storage, reminders, and delivery
  • Artificial intelligence systems to anticipate and avoid falls, getting lost, and health issues
  • Robotic caregivers to provide companionship, perform routine tasks, and combine multiple technology areas in one device
  • Healthcare technologies that monitor seniors’ vital systems and signs, communicating data to care providers, and more to reduce emergency hospital visits and routine doctor visits
  • Autonomous transportation that helps seniors maintain their mobility and independence with greater safety

…and SO much more.

All that tech is, or will be, out there so we need to help our senior loved ones prepare for it — and we have to do it right.

We have to teach our parents and grandparents well!

Patience — Key to Teaching Tech Well

I know, you’re saying “of course patience is essential to teaching.” Yes, we all know it, but do we practice it?

Family members are renowned for displaying a lack of patience when teach senior loved ones to use technology. Articles in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal (“Want to Get Tech Savvy? Don’t Ask Your Children“), recommend that seniors learn to use their smartphones and tablets from somebody other than family members.

Sure, learning from someone who is not related may be best for some people of all ages, not just seniors, but there are at least three reasons we should work to be the first place our loved ones turn for that needed education.

  1. When our senior loved ones need “family tech support” to get their device or apps working correctly, it would be helpful to know how they were taught initially. Knowing this can make it easier to walk through the support steps and reinforce prior lessons to build proficiency and independence with technology.
  2. As new technologies become available, we can build on what our seniors know already by using teaching steps that helped get them where they are instead of taking a different path.
  3. Time spent helping our parents or grandparents learn new skills can be a wonderful experience, creating memories that will last forever.

We lose all of that if we drive our senior loved ones to learn from others because we are impatient or make them feel we would rather be doing something else rather than helping them.

We Didn’t Learn it All at Once, Either

One challenge that seems to doom many senior technology teaching sessions is trying to bite off too much at once. That alone can cause enough frustration, both in teacher and student, to make future sessions painful to anticipate.

Think back to when you got your first smartphone or tablet. You probably didn’t load it up with apps that you actually used right away. You gradually learned how to use the device and apps. Still, the temptation is there to load up your senior’s device all at once with everything they might need and teach them how to use it.

Trying to push too much all at once can result in our senior loved ones giving up and tossing the device in a drawer to be forgotten. With smartphones and tablets serving as the heart of the home technology ecosystem, that means our pushing could put our seniors that much further behind and create an even steeper learning curve later.

Try on Their Shoes First

No, this is not meant literally!

Before trying to teach a how-to senior technology session, it can be very helpful to try on their shoes first, considering their perspective and understanding their history with technology.

Many seniors use, or have used, personal computers in their work or personal lives. This provides a knowledge base that can be both helpful and something to overcome. Understanding, though, what they are accustomed to doing can help the learning process.

Let them know what actions or functions are similar between the devices they know and the new technology. That can make learning easier.

Understanding what is different from what they know can help them avoid the very frustrating repetition of actions from memory that worked on other devices but simply don’t translate to their new ones.

Teaching Well Has Its Rewards

As family caregivers, we want very much for our senior loved ones to live their elder years safely, in good health, and comfortably. We want them to be happy.

Technology can and will help enable all of those – – and help them to be happy.

Those same technologies that improve the lives of our seniors will also make easier the roles of family caregivers, which is not a minor added bonus.

You might try, when you hit one of those seemingly inevitable spots where they frustrate you during the teaching process, remembering and taking to heart some of the lyrics written so well by Graham Nash and performed so magically by him and his bandmates:

just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”


4 thoughts on “Teach Your Parents Well on Technology”

  1. Thanks for sharing this blog here, Barry. Nowadays, technology is one of the essential parts of the senior living. It will help them in many areas of health, safety, independence, and comfort what they need.

    • Nice Rob! Grandkids are great technology gurus for their grandparents and usually love doing it! They often know more shortcuts and workarounds than we do to help seniors navigate technology! Not only will they make things easier for them and you, they are building lifelong memories with grandparents! Win=win!

  2. This is a great information. Discovering preliminary information about the learner or end user is so important in order to decrease frustration and recognize strengths. I would also recommend exploring how the individual learns best i.e. chunking information in small sections, providing a written document to use as a resource, use of a diagram, demonstration then teach back, etc.

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