How to Talk to Your Parents About Tech

How to Talk to Your Parents About Tech(Thinkstock)

Last month we got a visit from my 85-year-old mother-in-law, Ena. To commemorate the occasion, she had us all pose for a group selfie she took with her Kindle Fire tablet.

Ena is also pretty Net savvy. When she got into a dispute with a car mechanic whom she believed was trying to cheat her, Ena posted a scathing online review of his company. The next day he called her to apologize.

“He thought he was dealing with some old doddering woman,” she wrote in an email. “He forgot we are all a bit more savvy than him in some respects.”

Read more: How to Keep an Eye on Your Aging Parents Without Annoying the Crap Out of Them

But Ena isn’t your typical 85-year-old. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, more than three-quarters of Americans age 65-plus carry cellphones, and six out of 10 are online. That’s not bad, but it still falls far short of averages for all adults (91 and 86 percent, respectively). And of Americans over 80, nearly two-thirds are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

That’s a shame. Technology can help your aging relatives live fuller, more independent lives for far longer.

But only if you persuade them to use it. And that’s not always easy.

Age against the machine
As you grow older, using a computer or a smartphone might not be so easy. Screens are hard to read; typing is difficult. Even operating a mouse can be challenging at first.

“People underestimate the dexterity required for a double-click or the nuances of swiping and tapping,” says Brenda Rusnak, producer of the documentary Cyber-Seniors. “Then there’s the knowledge gap. We take the meaning of words like ‘icon’ for granted. Seniors want to know what an icon is and why it’s called that.”

In Cyber-Seniors, teen mentors help residents of an assisted living facility in Toronto create Facebook accounts, record YouTube videos, play Minecraft, learn the meaning of acronyms like BFF, and fill out dating site profiles. Watching the seniors open up to what technology has to offer is utterly charming.

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