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Never too old to learn – how my parents got the computer bug



I live 150 miles away from my parents and like many people in this situation call my parents probably twice a week and see them every 6-8 weeks.


It’s sometimes difficult at the end of a busy week to remember everything that has happened, and with my parents becoming hard of hearing over the years the conversation can be difficult. It seemed to me that email would be a useful addition to our communication options but neither of my parents were interested as ”they didn’t see the point of computers”.  However I decided to take a risk and buy them a computer anyway. So we bought them a Sideboard supplied 3g Chromebook, with PawPawMail, their own dedicated homepage and web site filter all pre-configured by Sideboard, and took it with us on our next visit.


My mum at the age of 79 had never used a computer so I spent an hour with her going through the basics and then left them to it. In the first couple of weeks we had a few phone calls where I had to explain things which were obvious to me but not to them, such as “the return key is the big one on the right looking like a L shape” etc.


I was really pleased when i got my first email from my mum and we now email at least weekly as well as speaking on the phone. The great thing is that when I’m at work or on the train and think of something I can email them. We occasionally send photos whereas before on the weekends when we saw them we would often forget to take the computer or print the pictures.


My mum and dad of their own volition signed up for a local free computer course which has honed their skills. Interestingly by then they preferred computers with touch pads rather than using a mouse which is what the classroom had; so, as their Chromebook works on 3g, I suggested that they take their computer into classes. They also now take their computer to my uncle who (at the age of 75) had lost interest in the second hand computer he had been given as it was hard to use and needed updates etc ,- which the Sideboard Chromebook doesn’t. N.B we have found that with their current usage £5 a month on 3g is all they need.


My mum has now started web browsing and using Google, moving on from the basic links and web sites which we configured for them on their Sideboard home page. I also now get weekly email of my dad’s blood pressure which has been a worry for us all recently. We have tried internet shopping with me helping my mum when we have called round. The good thing is that with the PawPawMail system I can remotely vet email from unauthorised senders which means that the spam/sales emails from these web sites are blocked by me. Using the Chromebook remote access capabilities I can now supervise a browsing session remotely to make sure that she is happy with what she is doing; it’s like being in the room!


My cousin in Australia sent pictures of his new grandson straight to my mum and dad and so they also email each other now. I think the next step is to try video calls.  All in all it’s been four months from opening the box to get to this stage which I’m really happy with; especially  as my mum has always been frightened of computers and my dad has always been the “technology man” so it’s good to see the tables turned.


Andy B, Hampshire


For info see

The Great Untapped Resource


Update - Could this be part of the answer to Jeremy Hunt's forgotten million?


Almost a third (32%) of 16-24 year-olds and more than a quarter (28%) of 25-34 year-olds say they don't have regular contact with anyone aged 65 or over - WRVS, 2012

Recent estimates place the number of people over 65 who are often or always lonely at over one million - Age Concern and Help the Aged, 2009.

What a shame, on the one hand all those lonely people, and on the other hand millions of young people who don't have regular contact with their older relatives.

Perhaps one of the reasons is the difference in preferred ways of communicating - particularly the predominance of the use of electronic media by the under 40s.

How much more convenient (and likely?) might it be for grandchildren to keep in touch with grandma if they could send her a quick email during the lunch break or upload a photo of last week-ends BBQ to her on-line photo album.

Are young people the great untapped resource that could help solve the problem of the loneliness and social isolation felt by so many old people?

40 Reasons for your parents to use the internet


“…in other words, older people don’t get access to the internet because they think they don’t need it.”


This conclusion from a project undertaken by Independent Age* reflects a problem experienced by many of us when trying to persuade elderly parents that getting on-line would be a good idea.


Generally, enthusing about the various technologies and applications “we could Skype you instead of just phoning” doesn’t do the job. Most older internet users, when asked what first prompted them to go online site a very specific use e.g. being able to see their grandchildren on screen. However, once online the over 65s turn out to be very keen users, in fact people aged over 65 who have internet access spend more hours online than the average for all ages**


So if you’re trying to persuade an older friend or relative of the benefits of joining the digital age here are a few uses and examples that might spark their interest:


Contact with family

1.      See photos of family events almost as they happen

2.      Video calls with grandchildren – watch them grow up no matter where in the World they live

3.      Make it easy for family, especially those with full time jobs to stay in touch with you.  Because Emails can be sent or received from anywhere e.g. the train or bus on the way to work, or from their desk at lunchtime, there are more opportunities to keep in touch about the small things in life – not just “it’s Sunday evening, time to call dad”

4.      Email lets the youngsters stay in touch in short bursts using the technology they use for everyone else, so, it’s more likely to happen

5.      Group video calls so all the family can “get together” for special occasions even if miles apart

6.      Practical help with technology – hold the TV remote up to the video camera so your grandson can tell you which button to press to turn off the sub-titles


More involvement with social activities

7.      View local websites; what time does the talk start at the village club; see the pictures and results from the local flower show;

8.      Emails: receive the newsletter from the Probus club; send a comment to the local radio show about the programme you just listened to; submit a photo for the local newspapers competition; let your walking group know that you can’t make it next Saturday; send your coffee morning group your mother’s famous jam recipe

9.      Video clips; let Monty Don show you how to harvest and store the garlic you planted last year



10.  Internet radio; listen to an American Jazz station or songs from the shows – or those stations that you can’t get a decent reception on your FM/digital radio

11.  Catch up/listen again to radio or TV shows

12.  Make your own virtual radio station that plays the music you like

13.  Read the latest news from the local newspaper

14.  Find out what’s on at the local cinema and book tickets

15.  Check bus and train times

16.  Research holiday destinations

17.  Get your digital photographs printed and posted to you without having to leave the house

18.  Research the family tree

19.  Check the weather forecasts either local or for where you are going

20.  Get a route map to your destination

21.  Buy books and CDs online and have them delivered

22.  Interactive quizzes and games


Health care

23.  Get information and advice on health issues

24.  Book a GP appointment

25.  Order repeat prescriptions

26.  Stay in touch with others with same condition

27.  Ask questions to specialist advice services

28.  Video calls with carers/health care professional

29.  CCTV cameras for security and monitoring tradesmen/visitors/carers

30.  Remote activity monitoring  and automatic email/SMS alerts e.g. “it’s 10:00 a.m. and mum hasn’t been into the hall yet”

31.  Get reminders on screen about appointments, medication etc.


Household chores

32.  On-line shopping, either direct to the supermarket  or email your shopping list and required delivery time to someone who can order for you

33.  Check out best deals for insurance, utilities etc.

34.  Save a wasted journey by ordering online and picking up from the store when you know it’s there

35.  Book local services like collection of large items of rubbish/recycling

36.  Christmas and birthday shopping without leaving the house



37.  Deaf/impaired hearing – use email instead of phone calls

38.  Need large text to read information – read it on the web and make the text as big as you like

39.  Save on stamps – emails are free!

40.  Fed up with the weather or the view from your window? Log on to a web cam with a more exotic view;


Hope you find some of these useful. If you have any tips of your own that you would be happy to share we can add them to the list. Please email them via our "contact us" page



* Independent Age “Older people, technology & community project”

** Delivering digital inclusion: An action plan for consultation, Communities and Local Government (2008).

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