Bridging the technology generation gap can bring families closer



For The Maui News

Some grandparents (and great-grandparents) feel overwhelmed by the constant changes in technology. According to Alan Kay, a computer scientist, there are reasons for that.

“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born,” Kay said. Anyone who has grown up with a television in the house simply understands television as “television” and not as an intimidating device that needs to be conquered and learned.

On the other side, anyone born before the introduction of cellphones would have more challenges learning to use them since they are new and the technology is unfamiliar.

This idea explains part of the technology generation gap. Because many devices used today are recent additions to society, the generation gap can be large. And because these technologies are not new to the youth, they often adopt technology more quickly than older adults.

But this premise could actually be used as a bridge across the gap.

Recruiting grandchildren to teach technology to their grandparents accomplishes several things:

• Youths who are given opportunities to experience success and take on challenges develop self-confidence.

• Youths can improve their abilities, making them more prepared for the workforce by teaching skills to someone else.

• Grandparents can act as mentor, giving the grandchild a safe environment to receive feedback. This also fosters a positive relationship with an adult.

• Grandparents are given an opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren before and after the coaching sessions.

Once the relationship has been established and the technology gap decreases, that knowledge can be used as a connector for intergenerational communication.

Email, online video conferencing and texting can all help strengthen or develop relationships between the generations.

The basic steps to building the bridge begin by:

1. Having the grandparent choose the technology to learn. It should be something the grandparent is truly interested in learning. Choosing something simply because the grandchild might be using it can lead to frustration and could make the relationship more challenging.

2. Developing a plan of action. Have the grandchildren participate in the process and let them break down the learning process into steps since they are “the experts.” Youths can create short guides to leave with adults as reminders.

3. Creating a reasonable schedule that works for both parties. The time, day, place and length of each “lesson” and the number of total lessons should be manageable for everyone.

4. Creating a nice environment. If the coaching will be after school, the grandparent can provide a snack and place to relax before the training.

5. Making it a win-win situation. The grandparent may be able to help with homework or prepare dinner for the grandchild.

6. Keeping it simple for everyone.

The more both parties practice with it the more comfortable it will become. As software or equipment is conquered, plans to tackle new technology can be created and the relationship continues to grow.

Some suggestions for starting with technology include:

• Email is a great way to begin because the learning curve is somewhat limited. Once shortcuts are created to the email program, an address book is created and the grandparents have had a chance to type and send a few emails, they should be on their way to mastering the technology.

• Texting is similar to email and can be taught after tackling email on a computer. The size of the phone can cause some issues but since most young adults communicate via text it is a great way to reach grandchildren.

• Facebook can be used by grandparents for reading or posting. If the idea of posting seems overwhelming, an account can be created with links to all of the children, grandchildren and cousins so that grandparents can get updates on the family without ever having to post.

• Skype or Facetime or other video conferencing can be more complicated to learn. This could work best if a dedicated piece of equipment can be used so that the settings and environment never change. If this is to be taught to a grandparent via distance, it may be worthwhile to hire a technician or cousin that is nearby to help with the physical setup.

To learn more about bridging the technology gap, search for the Generations United and Penn State Extension report called “Using Technology to Connect Generations” or contact the Kahului’s UH Extension office.

* Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs and contributes the monthly “Aging Matters” column. Today’s contributing writer is Nancy Ooki, 4-H youth development extension with UH Extension. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.