Sandy Pressman has seven grandsons and wants nothing more than to be a big part of the boys' lives. But to do that, she has had to constantly reinvent herself, learning a new app or the latest social media craze. (If you're a grandparent seeking some advice, scroll to the bottom of this story for five tips.)
Pressman has had to become a texting whiz (her 18 year-old grandson will only text her), learn the ins and outs of Minecraft (a land the 12-year-old disappears into) and get her own tablet to keep up with the littlest ones.
“The iPad, the iPhone, the computer, are all very popular around this house,” Pressman said.
While parents grapple with limiting and overseeing screen use, the problem is even more basic for grandparents, Pressman said.
“They control the environment with their technology,” she said of her grandchildren. “I’m of a generation where I’m more afraid of it. They aren’t afraid of it.”
She likens it to learning a foreign language, something that gets much harder with age. But she forged ahead to learn the basics of Facetime and even how to record and send voice memos from her iPhone.
“I think it’s incredibly important that I stay up with all of the grandchildren on being able to communicate,” Pressman said.
Pressman’s one of the more tech-savvy grannies, according to Reveta Bowers, director of the Center for Early Education, a school in Hollywood. Many grandparents of children at her school tell her they don’t know how to connect with or engage their technology-obsessed grandchild.
One very worried grandmother asked Bowers for advice recently on what to do when her grandkids get dropped off for the weekend.
“They each walk in with a device,” she recalled the grandmother saying, “and I have no idea what they’re looking at or listening to, and I have no idea how to interact with them in that space."
Bowers said she knew she had to do something to help. She invited a nonprofit group, Commonsense Media, to come to the school and train grandparents on digital media basics. She wanted to bridge what she sees as a “digital divide, [a] generational divide.”
Herself a grandmother, Bowers believes older adults need to be nudged to learn digital media basics.
UCLA professor Patricia Greenfield remembers playing Scrabble with her grandparents when she was a child and Boggle with her own children. Trying to engage her grandsons in the games flopped until she found the smartphone versions.
Greenfield, who studies the effect of media on children, suggests grandparents at least cozy up to and watch as a whiz-bang grandchild thumbs away — and ask questions. They shouldn't play without monitoring.
Five tips for grandparents to engage with tech-savvy kids:
1. From UCLA Professor, Patricia Greenfield: Embrace technology. As scary as it might feel, ignoring it, banning it or rubbishing it is not going to endear you to your grandchildren. Find apps, games or social media sites that you can engage in together. She suggests “Scramble,” an iOS app that is like the game Boggle.
2. From Reveta Bowers, Director of the Center for Early Education: Learn the wonders of Google and search engines on an iPad or tablet. Then try asking your grandchild what they have always wanted to know about (Fairies? Electric cars? How a rainbow forms?) and embark on an on-line research project together. Your grandchild can navigate the device, and you can help pose questions to verify authenticity of material that Google throws up. The bonus is you'll be teaching media literacy skills as you bond.
3. From Commonsense media: Educate yourself on the best apps for your grandkids. The group's slogan is “Not All Apps Are Created Equal.” Commonsense Media has published independent reviews of more than 2,000 apps for kids based on age appropriateness and learning potential.
4. From Sandy Pressman, Grandmother of seven: Ask for help! Have your grandchild be your first technical assistance go-to person. They will often enjoy teaching you, and you can avoid getting frustrated and giving up. At the cost of an ice cream cone or oatmeal cookie, they're a lot cheaper than professionals, too.
5. From Leslie Zineberg, Grandmother who runs a website of resources for grandparents: Don't get sucked in to expensive monthly subscription apps. It may seem like a low monthly fee, but do the math and calculate if the purchase will be worth it one year from now.