A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....
Tips For Getting Your Parents To Want To Use A Computer January 19th, 2000
In a recent column (Dec. 22, 1999) I mentioned that, after three or four years of trying, my family finally got my 83 year old father to sit down in front of a computer and play some games. He was hooked at that point and in the January 5, 2000 column I talked about the learning curve and the need for consistent definitions of words (window, icon, trash, etc.) I also mentioned that my mother would not touch it even with my father's urging. That prompted several letters from readers about their frustrations with the same problem. As one reader wisely pointed out, people who grew up during the depression have spent their whole lives eschewing frivolous things, saving money, and doing without.
I heard Tom Brokaw on TV the other night discussing his new book in which he writes about my parents generation, their strength, their valor during the war, and their frugality. He stated: (paraphrased) that people from that WWII generation can tell you the price of bananas posted on a sign as they drive past at 60 mph. The point of this being that to get anyone, of any age, to try something as "complicated" as a computer is often difficult (well, unless they are kids. Kids will try anything). Attracting older users is made more difficult by their life long habit of getting only what is necessary, but many are trying to get on the bandwagon with encouragement from family members. I can't tell you how many letters I have received over the past year from adult children who are frustrated trying to teach elderly parents to use computers. The letter writers state that they don't remember what it was like to learn basic computer skills. Some younger viewers might be thinking here that we shouldn't try if it is so difficult. Why bother?
There are many sound reasons to "bother." Without getting into a Sociology lecture (which I am certainly not qualified to give), I will just mention that e-mail allows busy adults with children's needs on one of the spectrum, and their parents needs on the other, to keep more readily in touch with their parents, keep up with their health needs, and share information with them. I am 59 years old, my children range in ages from 40 to 24, I have an extremely demanding job and grandchildren who are growing up right in front of my eyes. If I could check in on my parents by e-mail every few days then I would not worry about them so much. Telephone calls don't often work because they are long-distance. Have you ever tried to keep someone from that generation talking on the phone long-distance long enough to find out how things really are? Believe me it is difficult. "Long-distance costs money and is only for emergencies" was a mantra of my childhood. No matter how often I explain that I am calling on my cell phone and it doesn't cost extra, they still can't allow themselves to talk at length. Another reasons to tackle this job is because of the simple enjoyment that the computer can bring to people who are house bound, or partially house bound.
For those multitudes of us who face these or similar problems, part of the answer is to find ways to interest our folks in using the computer so that they will be tempted to try it. After all, this is the generation that saved democracy, they can do anything they try to do. Following are suggestions and tips from me and from readers who also deal with this issue. I hope you find some that are helpful.
1. Find sites on the internet that cover things that are of particular interest to the person. Gardening, travel, hobbies, health, music, news, Outer Mongolia. It doesn't matter so long as you can sit in front of the computer and demonstrate to them what is out there. Believe me, they have no idea.
2. Demonstrate for them the attributes that computers have that they will enjoy. For instance, my mother is gradually loosing her eyesight. From my earliest childhood I have visions of my mother reading voraciously. While she can now still read books with large print, she can't read the paper. Remember that if a person that age learned to type they learned on a standard typewriter. Even I learned to type on a standard. The kind of font and font size options on a computer are a totally unknown quantity. It would never occur to someone of that generation to even think that way. In my mother's case I found that there is access to the local paper on the internet. Now the task is to get her to try it.
3. Identify a software program that will help or interest the person. Do they like to cook? Would they like to be able to keep their finances by computer? How about solitaire, chess, poker, dominoes? Easy to use software is available everywhere. If you have to, load it yourself and show them how to click on it to get going. One simple software program at a time is not so overwhelming.
4. Pictures of the grand kids by e-mail. That can really be a winner. Especially if they live far away.
5. Don't give them too much information at one time. Remember that standard typewriter. I made that mistake with my father and my children made it with me. It is so easy to be excited about all they can learn and go overboard.
6. When I was growing up, there was no public school drivers education available. Therefore when a kid was ready to learn to drive a car it usually fell on mom or dad to teach them. I am firmly convinced that the only reason drivers education was ever born was so that parents and kids didn't have to go through that excruciating trial. If you don't have the patience to teach computer skills then don't do it! Think of all those piano lessons, and swimming lessons, and dance lessons they paid for. Hire someone to spend some time with them. Tell them the person owes you a favor and is doing it for free.
7. Everyone likes to feel successful, especially when they are tackling something they consider hard to do. Small successes keep us going. In my field, mental retardation, there is a technique called backward-chaining. A fancy name for something every parent does automatically. Think about any time you have been responsible for a young child and the steps you would follow to get that child into his or her coat. Most probably you put the coat on the child, all except for the last sleeve. When you got to that point you asked the child to put his or hand into the sleeve and then praised him or her for successfully putting on the coat.
Picture another situation wherein you are teaching someone to make a bed. Chances are you make most of the bed yourself and then ask the one you are teaching to help fold the spread over the pillows as a final step. Then you praise the person for helping to make the bed. The next time you take that back one step and ask the person to put on the pillows as well as fold the spread over them, etc. The advantage to this is that after each session the person can feel a sense of accomplishment. The point is to not throw a multitude of skills at someone who is trying to learn to use a computer. I once worked with a dear man who somehow got the idea that I knew a lot about the technical side of computers. I haven't a clue where he got that idea, but it was firmly ingrained in his head. Every time he saw me he started talking technical jargon at me. It scared me to death. I didn't want to look stupid by admitting that I didn't know what he was talking about and at the same time, it made me much more afraid to actually use my computer for anything more than a fancy typewriter.
And now, for one last bit of reinforcement for sticking with it. In the column for August 18, 1999, I shared the story of a couple of people whose life had been changed by learning to use a Mac. One of those people is a member of my staff whom I referred to as Jane. One of this young lady's life challenges is mental retardation, but from the skills she gained from learning to use a computer she has been able to move from a supervised living situation into her own home, as well as assuming more complicated and rewarding responsibilities at work. I mention her again because I want to share with you a note I received from her last week. Her real name is LeaAnn Johnson and she gave me permission to use her name in this column. LeaAnn's parents gave her a computer and printer for Christmas. Last week she left the following message, which she had created and printed at home, in my box.
I don't know about you, but I am really impressed.
Next week's column is going to have more information, sent in by readers, about playing Chess on your computer. I will also cover some tips and definitions that should be helpful to new users.
If you have any tips, suggestions, or other comments about this, or any other Mac topics, send them to me so that I can share them with other readers.
Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping. To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.
Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color,
covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.
Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.