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Virtual grandparenting

More families connect online

Created date

August 24th, 2010

It s no secret that teens and twentysomethings are tied to the Internet. Socializing, among the younger set, happens online. For older adults, the changing methods of communication can be disconcerting. But a new wave of contemporary grandparents is getting plugged in. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the biggest increase in Internet usage was posted by the 70 75- year-old age group. While just over one-fourth (26%) of 70 75-year-olds were online in 2005, 45% of that age group had joined the Internet revolution by 2009. Handwritten letters and long-distance calls aside, the new modus operandi for grandparenting calls for a computer. Take Margot Curtis, for instance. The former bookstore manager has always been an involved grandparent. She moved from California to Texas seven years ago to help her youngest son and his wife when they became parents of triplets. Once the triplets started school, Curtis moved to Eagle s Trace in west Houston. She is the head of the community s Mac computer group, which meets once a month to share tips and tools for using an Apple. Like many in the group, Curtis is self-taught and relies on e-mail to keep in touch with her extended family. I have a 16-year-old granddaughter in Virginia, says Curtis. We e-mail back and forth regularly. It s much easier for her and for me to write more than we might say on the phone. And while e-mail is by far the favored online tool among senior adults, other applications are growing in popularity.

Skype it up

Skype, a computer program that allows users to make free video calls over the Internet, is a favorite withEagle s Traceresident Emerson Jones. The retired chemical engineer has grandchildren scattered across the country, from Nashville, Tenn., to southern California. With Skype, it s much easier to have visual contact while the conversation goes on, he says. We re not much for long talks on the phone. Jones has also embraced e-mail, creating a group for family e-mail addresses that he can access with one keystroke. My wife and I are planning a trip to the Twin Cities in August. I just sent out the details of our trip in one e-mail to all family members, he says.

Two-way conversation

ForEagle s Traceresident Dorothy Davison, a retired city planner, it s not so much about the information she shares as it is the information she receives. I have a grandson who lives in London, but he was recently climbing mountains in Indonesia, says Davison. He e-mailed me pictures of his climb. It was wonderful to see what he was up to. Once or twice a week, Davison will send an e-mail to her grandkids in London, Manhattan, and Phoenix, letting them know that she will be on the computer at such and such hour. I invite them to call me on Skype, she says. It s like a visit. I make sure my hair is combed and my makeup s on.

Tech support

Davison credits her son, Scott, with getting her up and running on the computer. Scott lives here in Houston, and he s my technician, she says. He s the one who got me set up with a camera and a microphone for using Skype. But on days when Scott is not available, help is just around the corner.Eagle s Traceemploys an IT specialist who is on-hand to answer computer-related questions. And while expert advice is always welcome, some of the best technical assistance comes from peers helping peers. That s one of the benefits of living here, says Davison. I have neighbors who know a lot about computers. They can be here at a moment s notice if I have a question.