Lucky kids get to spend face-time with grandparents. But what happens to those relationships when families live far away or even across town?
For grandparents who are willing to stretch a little, tablets and smartphones can be a powerful ally in building close, ongoing relationships. Often parents can facilitate this connection. If you live with easy driving distance, consider setting up equipment and enlisting older kids to do a little training with their grandparents. For long-distance grandparents, think about giving a gift certificate for an Internet class at the local senior center or hiring a guru for an afternoon. The AARP website has an entire section devoted to personal technology (www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/)
Even when the technology gap seems daunting, it’s worth bridging. Grandchildren will appreciate grandparents who can send an animated instant message as well as the obligatory birthday card, guide a surfing expedition as well as a fishing trip, post photos on a website as well as the refrigerator door. Helping your parent master just one of the skills listed below is likely to strengthen the connection between generations in ways that are nourishing for your parents and your kids.
Send a message. Most grandparents are acquainted with email, so it seems like an easy way tell a child “I’m thinking about you.” A surprising number of kids, however, never even open their email. Instead, introduce grandparents to text messages or the messaging options in social media. These messages are more rewarding for kids because of their immediacy, and once grandparents get the hang of this, they are often enthusiastic correspondents. They may even want to learn the lingo at internetlingo.com or noslang.com.
Try video chat. Adding video to a conversation is a special treat especially when kids are little and changing every week. Now that smartphones include taping options, grandparents may also want to experiment with creating little videos especially for kids—singing a favorite lullaby, reading a book that parents loved when they were young or even telling older children stories about the good old days.
Become a surf master. There are lots of fascinating and informative websites for kids, but kids often have a hard time finding them. A grandparent with just a little search expertise can perform a valuable service by sorting through the debris and sending a grandchild the gems. A good place to start is the American Library Association’s Great Websites for Kids (gws.ala.org). Common Sense Media also has terrific recommendations about age-appropriate apps and websites as well as books, movies, TV, games, and music. (commonsensemedia.org). Pointing a child to a well-chosen website is also a way to build a shared interest in favorite hobbies such as genealogy, sports, travel, or gardening.
Create an album. Anyone who uses Gmail can create a shared photo album. For instructions, visit support.google.com/photos. Grandparents may also enjoy creating customized family albums at sites like shutterfly.com, snapfish.com, mixbook.com and picaboo.com. For those whose technical skills are limited, digital photo frames can be a great way to display an endless slide show of photos that can be updated as kids grow.
Play games. Generations of kids have learned to play checkers, rummy, scrabble, battleship, and other classic games in the company of grandparents. Now this tradition continues with apps where these games and many others can be played online without cost. Some grandparents may take an interest in the latest craze, but many will find it easier to play the old favorites. App Crawler (appcrawlr.com) has lists of the 100 best old-fashioned games for both Apple and Android. One caveat: Avoid sites featuring casino games. Even when they are “free,” they create an unhealthy interest in gambling.
Build a blog. A grandparent trying to keep up with grandchildren in several places may discover blogging is a perfect solution. At sites like wordpress.com, tumblr.com or blogspot.com, seniors can write longer messages illustrated with photos. Grandparents can chronicle their travels, share favorite recipes or jokes, or muse about current (or past) events. Be sure to set privacy settings so only family members and friends can see what’s written and then invite grandkids to respond with messages of their own. Not only does this keep grandparents connected to grandkids but it may also build bonds between cousins and even their parents.
Get social. Grandparents with teenage grandchildren probably worry about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat. With just a little effort, they can play a valuable role in helping young people make wise decisions about how they want to present themselves online. Perhaps the best way to do this is to encourage grandparents to set up their own social media page. Then he or she can invite friends, including grandkids, to join the page. Some teens may reciprocate but others won’t. That’s OK. Simply asking for a grandchild’s advice about how to build such a site gives grandparents an opportunity to join the conversation about what should and shouldn’t posted in cyberspace and why.
In fact, grandparents who become informed about the Internet can often back-up parents by talking to kids about what they do online and reminding them of safety rules. Although technology won’t ever be a substitute for curling up in a grandparent’s lap to read a favorite book or sharing a freshly baked batch of cookies, wired relationships do have their own unique rewards. Introducing grandparents to those possibilities is one way for parents to promote the intergenerational connections that are so good for everyone involved.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and technology for over twenty years. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart, a book that describes a highly effective way to address conflict in families, schools and communities. Available at Amazon and cooperativewisdom.org. @ Copyright, 2017, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.