How to teach older family members about the internet

The elderly have some specific needs when it comes to modern technology.

As the internet’s influence grows, people who initially shunned it are starting to see what the online world has to offer. This is especially true of older generations who are recognizing the benefits of staying in touch with family through social media. Teaching elderly loved ones how to navigate this technology can be frustrating because you generally have to start from scratch. However, it’s important to realize that these people had to patiently watch you learn to walk and talk, so you probably owe them a favor.

So, how can you approach teaching the elderly person in your life how to work computers and negotiate the internet?

1. Start with the fundamentals

Remember: Older folks (and anyone else unfamiliar with computers) may not understand the very basics of modern computing that you take for granted. You may want to start by teaching Nana how to create a Facebook account, but she may not even know how to turn on her laptop.

You’ll want to start from just about zero. The good stuff like how to use Google and downloading entertainment is important, but you’d need to start with activities like how to use a mouse and what an internet browser is for. TypingClub is also a good resource for beginner keyboard skills.

2. Touch screens can help (or hinder)

When teaching your student on a traditional computer, you may come to find that they’re overwhelmed by the number of keys and the various contexts in which you can use a mouse. If this is the case, you may want to try giving them a touch-screen device such as a tablet. The great advantage of these gadgets is that you don’t really need to have any sort of computer knowledge to work them. If you can turn them on, all you have to do is use your finger to navigate.

“Certain elderly people find some difficulty in working touch-screen devices.”

That said, certain elderly people may find some difficulty in working touch screen devices. As Consumer Reports points out, most modern tablets and smartphones rely on capacitive touch-screen technology. This is where the gadget generates an electrical field around itself that then responds to the charge your finger emits.

While this works perfectly fine for the average person, people with very dry hands may have trouble. On top of that, certain elderly people may not understand the difference between pressing like they would with a button and tapping a touchscreen. Give your loved one a chance to play around with your smartphone or tablet before you decide to buy them one of their own.

3. Increase the font size of the device

One aspect of aging that just about every old (or, ahem, middle-aged) person can attest to: Your body doesn’t always hold up as well as your mind. Your loved one might still think like a spring chicken in their golden years, but they may come to find that reading normal text becomes difficult, even with glasses. For computers and tablets, your best option is to increase the font size of displayed words. If your student is having trouble reading to begin with, they probably won’t respond positively to a smartphone. Below is a list of instructions on how to do this on a variety of popular devices:

  • iPad: Settings > General > Text Size. Then just move the slider until you have the correct size.
  • Windows 10:  Right click desktop > Display settings. There will then be a slider on the right of the window that pops up that lets you alter text size. When done, click Apply. You can also zoom by holding Ctrl and scrolling up with the mouse.
  • Mac:  Hold command and hit + until you reach the desired size.

4. Ensure they understand the dangers

If the elderly person in your life plans on taking advantage of everything the internet has to offer, they’re going to need to learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity. While they certainly need to know what phishing is and how to avoid it, they’ll also require you to explain more basic security best practices, such as spotting a dodgy website. Avast’s Chrome extension can actually help here, as it has a database of dangerous sites and will clearly tell the user if they are about to venture into an unsafe situation.

The other issue you may want to explain is oversharing, especially if your student plans on having a social media account. While someone who grew up in the days of snail mail may consider posting a picture of your half-eaten breakfast to be too much information, they might not think the same about telling a stranger about their grandkids or the city that they live in. Both of those latter topics are perfectly fine to discuss with a new friend on the bus, but it it’s a security risk online. You’ll have to explain this difference.

Now that Nana knows the basics of her machine and how to stay safe, it’s time to take the training wheels off and let her ride solo. You may want to try to explain how to Google error messages so she can fix her own problems, but that’s probably wishful thinking. You’re most likely just going to have to take the hit and regularly help her with her computer issues. Just take this as a chance to spend some time with her and get her to email you the recipe for those delicious chocolate chip cookies.

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