Grandparents and grandchildren benefit from technology
BY JERRY WITKOVSKY
University’s Alumni Association presents a wonderful program where professors talk about their current research. The spring series was all about media, including a global context.
At the end of ten weekly sessions, I was listening to the last speaker in the last session, and the lightbulb flashed. Dr. Alexis Lauricella, affiliated with Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development, was talking about how her mom was having trouble relating to her (Alexis’) children because of limited technology.
It suddenly clicked how invasive technology is in the lives of our grandchildren. And how that could be divisive but could also potentially bring grandparents and grandchildren closer together.
What is a Technology Tourist?
I was excited about the ideas firing in my brain, so I talked to my son Michael about this could apply to helping grandparents and grandchildren enter each other’s worlds. Within a few hours, we whipped up a framework for a Technology Tourist program, a nifty kit whereby grandkids share what their technological world is like.
Essentially, I envision a program where the grandchild takes the grandparent on a tour of their digital world and identifies their preferred apps/programs for being connected. After checking with the parent/adult child first, grandchildren would self-record a video where they share images of their digital space: what devices they like to use, such as a laptop, cell phone or other device; what apps they use, such as Snapchat or Instagram’s DM (Direct Messaging), and where they like to use digital media—in the basement? Their bedroom? The result would be culled into a two-minute video to share with their grandparents.
“As much as grandparents need to learn to connect by technology, kids need to learn how to connect in real life.”
I see it as a class
Eight to ten grandparents and grandchildren would meet together to launch the program. Grandchildren would get instructions to make their video. Grandparents would get together to watch the videos and discuss their reactions and pick some applications they would like to learn. Grandparents and grandchildren would reconvene for grandchildren to teach their grandparents the applications they have chosen.
Before launching a program, however, I wondered. Is it worth it? Will it work?
So, I went back to the source of my inspiration, Dr. Lauricella at Northwestern. She was really excited about the idea, fueled by her own experience of watching her four children and her parents.
She also acknowledged the multitude of studies documenting the growing anxiety and depression with adolescents.
As much as grandparent’s need to learn to connect by technology, kids need to learn how to connect in real life. Within a day, Alexis saw the power of this idea and wrote a rough draft for a research project. The two essential questions are:
RQ1. Could a “technology tourist” program for grandparents and grandchild support grandparent mental health, physical health, social connections, and relationship development with grandchildren and family?
RQ2. Could a “technology tourist” program increase young adolescents’ comfort in live social interaction situations, provide social and emotional support, decrease levels of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms?
I’m scheduled to reconnect with Alexis in the fall to talk about designing a research project. (And we’ll be looking for funding, if you know anyone.)
The Power of Technology to Connect
While we wait for the research, I continue to ask grandparents what they think. I have heard from grandparents who don’t want to be connected, and, honestly, I don’t understand them. I also hear laments from those who are getting more and more isolated because they not connected.
Steve and Diane Brogan, both in their early 70’s, were faced with moving across country because of health issues. But they couldn’t accept being separated from their grandchildren, particularly with one who is on the autism spectrum. Technology has allowed them to connect with their adult children and grandchildren daily, and to be a part of their every-day world.
“One grandchild makes YouTube videos, and we watch most of them. He’s on Twitter, too. Our older granddaughter is on Instagram. We follow whatever they do,” says Diane, who points out you may find you really like it. She and husband Steve have been active Pokemon Go players for two years. Even though the grandson who introduced them to it lost interest after two weeks.
“I would hope that every grandparent would make the effort to do Messaging, Facetime, Instagram, or some kind of communication with electronics. Otherwise they are missing out. One of the greatest joys of the whole thing is we know we are accepted by our grandchildren,” adds Diane.
Technology is here to stay
The bottom line is that technology is here to stay forever, and it’s always changing. I talked to my grandson Ethan, who is now father to my two-year-old grandson. He talked about what reading looks like with his son. They want him to hold books, too, but they also read digital books. Just like the like the levers and pulleys of the beloved pop-up books, their son can touch screen and delight in a pop-up giraffe.
What will my great grandson’s technological world be like? I can’t even imagine. But I know I’m going to try. How about you? You in? How about we try together and share what we learn?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JERRY WITKOVSKY
Jerry Witkovsky, author of The Grandest Love is a long-time social work professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate grandpa. Jerry offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables and create a living legacy. Jerry created the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection School Program and curricula with Deanna Shoss, President & CEO of Intercultural Talk, Inc., in 2016, to work with schools as the platform to teach grandparents and grandchildren how to enter each other’s world. Learn more here