Despite having a computer in the home at several points in her life, my mother still doesn’t “get” them. First we had a Commodore 64 in the ’80s, then a PC in the early ’90s. Truth told, however, it was me using them, not my mom. So when in 2007 I gave her a Windows-based computer I had built earlier in the decade, she still reacted as if an alien had been invited into the house.
“You’re going to have to write down every step to using this,” she told me, “because I’ll never be able to remember it all. It’s just too confusing.”
I patiently wrote down the basics and walked my mom through it. Today she has a newer computer and can more or less check her e-mail, search for gardening information online, and make sure her anti-virus program is still updated. She’s still far from being comfortable with it, but through education and a bit of trial and error, she’s slowly becoming more technologically savvy.
Millions of Baby Boomers, now beginning to turn 65, have found themselves in similar situations. And while some of them may have minor experience with the technology so many of us take for granted today, others struggle to even understand the basic vocabulary — words like Google, download, and URL — associated with our tech world.
“Those are terms you think everyone would know, but you have to sit down and explain them,” Patrick Bolidoro, a tech tutor, told the Los Angeles Times’ Tina Susman.
Bolidoro is a student at New York’s Pace University, earning credits participating in a “gerontechnology program” designed to help seniors tackle the technology problem. The program, while unique in its own right as a university outreach effort, certainly isn’t an isolated one, however. From elementary schools to libraries, tech training programs continue to sprout up as seniors from all walks of life want to learn more about the rapidly changing tech world around them. Whether it’s a class at the local library on finding jobs online or a three-day seminar for seniors to learn the Internet, those without computer experience are finding opportunities to learn.
But what’s driving Baby Boomers to willingly try such classes? As journalist Susan Shelly demonstrates in a recent piece for Reading Eagle, while some seniors aren’t as excited about learning the ‘net as others, there’s a fundamental feeling of being “a bit isolated and left out of society as more and more of it revolves around technology.”
This feeling continues to drive many to learn how to better integrate technology into their lives. Shelly references how Nancy Dettra, 80, has grown fond of using Skype to video chat with her grandsons, who are studying abroad. Then there’s Carl Bloss, 78, who uses the Internet to research and share genealogy information. Yet amidst the optimism and excitement many seniors have about slowly feeling more connected and less isolated, a nagging concern remains about how well versed they are in protecting themselves online, especially from online criminals attempting to prey on the elderly.
“Criminals understand that seniors are from a different generation,” Dublin, California police Detective Alan Dumatol told The Oakland Tribune. “They’re a lot more trusting. They are vulnerable because they can be isolated socially, and seniors don’t always report being victims because they’re either embarrassed or afraid.”
Of course, such words shouldn’t be meant as scare tactics; we shouldn’t be trying to drive seniors away from tech learning. Rather, educators should stress the benefits and joys of technology and the Internet while at the same time being realistic about the risks any person may face while utilizing them. Such a balanced approach to teaching seniors about technology and Internet safety should in theory promote an even greater interest in the tech that enhances the lives of people from all walks of life. And in the end, seniors may very well feel more connected to others in their lives.
“My children look at me differently,” Roz Carlin, 93, told Susman after completing Pace University’s tech education program. “I feel like one of them, and they treat me like one of them too.”
Photo via Knight Foundation, Flickr Creative Commons
Earlier this month news broke of parent Tommy Jordan and his somewhat unorthodox method of dealing with his daughter’s disobedience in the online realm. Jordan’s daughter, Hannah, reportedly used vulgarity on Facebook to talk poorly about her family. In response, Jordan lectured his daughter and then shot his daughter’s laptop nine times with a pistol. Additionally, he recorded the “lecture” and posted it to his daughter’s Facebook page as part of her punishment.
Jordan has since defended his actions, stating “you raise your children however you want.”
“As long as they turn out well in the end, then our jobs as parents was well done,” he added.
Despite a fair amount of support, there are still many who oppose Jordan’s discipline methods. And from that disagreement comes a few interesting points that apply to parents with kids learning to use the Internet.
1. Compared to their kids, parents need to be as knowledge if not more knowledgeable about technology and social media. If parents know significantly less, they risk not being able to set prudent household policies and being less involved with their kids’ development in utilizing online environments.
Jordan supporter Samantha Radecki hints at this, stating on her opinion blog that parents don’t have the same level of control over their kids due to technological advances.
“Fifteen years ago, when a home telephone was the only way to keep in contact, it was easy for parents to monitor their kid’s activities,” said Radecki. “Parents today have to be up to date on using social media websites, cell phones, email and everything else in order to keep track of their kids like they used to.”
This easily leads into point two, which is…
2. Parents must be less fearful for and more supportive of children who wish to explore and search for information online. If parents are “introducing children to online environments through a len[s] of fear” as author Daniel Donahoo says, their “need to control, interject and govern” what their kids do online will limit the learning development of their children.
That view may seem to oppose the first point Radecki makes about monitoring what kids are doing online, but it truly doesn’t. Rather, a parent who knows how to use social media and other Internet technology not only relates better to their child, but also makes more intelligent household Internet policies, which can be created without the fear factor. That parent can sit down and explain what cyber-bullying is and why passwords shouldn’t be shared, all the while encouraging healthy online search habits. “Children supported to explore and search for information online will actually be better equipped to manage and avoid inappropriate content,” said Donahoo.
Looking at how Tommy Jordan handled the situation with his daughter’s Facebook postings in light of these two points seems extreme. While we don’t know all of the circumstances that led up to him shooting bullets through his daughter’s laptop, it’s easy to wonder if there was a better way to handle it.
When he defended his actions, he said that he didn’t have his daughter close her Facebook account because he’s an avid user himself and can empathize with the thought of losing years of memories. There are additional reasons to believe Jordan isn’t completely tech ignorant, leading me to believe that there was still the opportunity for him to spend productive time with his daughter on how to better use social networking. Instead he chose to shoot bullets through her laptop.
In the end, he’s at least partially right: parents more or less have the right to raise their children how they wish. However, there seems to be enough scientific evidence to show some methods are more productive than others. When it comes to raising a child in a tech-laden world, isn’t it more responsible to understand how that tech works and to spend time with the child creating a healthier, more meaningful view of the Internet and what it offers?
Photo via Oleg1975, Flickr Creative Commons