How to teach a senior user with low a frustration level how to use mobile devices and the Internet?

Becky Bowman February 20, 2013
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How do I teach my 87 year old mother how to use the internet? She can’t get past a computer is a fancy word processor. I’m always at a loss for words when she asks what do I DO on the internet?

My mother has a laptop and a smartphone and can’t use either effectively. She was great on a word processor, but just doesn’t understand what’s on the internet. I’ve tried to show her how I use it, but she is still baffled. However, she really wants to learn how to use it. She always asks me to look up information for her and order books from Amazon. She has a Kindle but doesn’t know how to sync it.

She has a low frustration level for using a computer and her phone. She’s very intelligent and doesn’t have dementia. I’m a teacher, but not very good at teaching my mama. Can anyone recommend anything?

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  1. Etech Etech
    February 28, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Lots and lots of patience. Teach her how to google things, and teach her that if she's not sure what to do, it's okay to guess. Teach her that she can't ruin anything on the computer. (But first set up automatic backup, so that it's true!)

    • Becky Bowman
      March 1, 2013 at 12:47 am

      I'm going to set up an automatic backup tomorrow. I just didn't think of it and that will make us both feel better. Thanks!

  2. Junil Maharjan
    February 21, 2013 at 5:25 am

    I know its going to be hard but you have to be very patient and keep reminding them on certain settings and uses. best of luck

  3. Oron Joffe
    February 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    In a nutshell - a little and often! Start with one task (e.g. email) and get her to use it regularly (every day if possible) for a while. Once you reckon she got the hang of it, move on to another task, let's say, searching in Amazon (initially without actually buying, but over a few days you can set up her account so she can buy things easily). Build things up slowly. There's no hurry, and she's overwhelmed, she'll get frustrated (everybody does, it's just that it takes us a little longer to become overwhelmed!).

    With all learning, having something RELEVANT is very important. If she has a hobby, perhaps you can find a forum which she will find interesting, or a shop where she can order materials/products easily. This will make the computer more important to her, and she may start exploring things by herself. Then again, if she's happy as she is, there's absolutely no reason why she HAS to use the computer more generally - there is life outside those boxes, you know...

    As for Kindle, It is actually a bit of a task to sync it (depending on the setup), so perhaps leave it until she's mastered a set of other skills on the computer, or set up her Kindle to sync via WiFi if she has that. Then she'd be able to order ebooks from the Kindle shop...

    As for the smart phone, I must admit I'm struggling to see why she would want to use it. Unless one actually NEEDS the facilities, it seems like more of a distraction than anything else

    • Becky Bowman
      March 1, 2013 at 12:53 am

      You've hit on the problem and the solution. She needs to be on her computer often and to do a bit each day. I think she gets overwhelmed and gives up on it and then forgets what she already knew. She doesn't have to use the computer as anything more than a word processor, but she wants to. I don't know why she wants a smartphone, but she does. Several friends and relatives have recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I'm sure she has a need to prove to herself that she can still learn - and she can and does. She's still a good driver and will drive 500 miles in a day by herself, has mastered electronic banking and the ATM (that one took a while,) and wants to put that new laptop to work. It is important to her to stay current and modern so we'll tackle the internet again.

  4. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    February 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I think you might want to try different approach. Teach things in order of relevance to her needs.Why do you think she will need the internet? Introduce her to web browser and various sites she might be interested with like search engines, Amazon (show her how to browse for books, then how to order them), hobby sites (gardening, cooking, etc), and basic stuff like email. Bookmark them for easy access and encourage her to explore the sites by her own (after telling her what not to do i.e clicking on questionable ads). Give her time to figure them out by her own. What we use the internet for will differ greatly to what she'll use the internet for. I was about to say don't force it if she feels she has no use of it, but you said your mom is eager to learn so go for it!

    • Becky Bowman
      March 1, 2013 at 12:45 am

      She's eager to learn until it comes time to learn and then I think she gets scared. I've tried putting icons on her desktop - Mother Click here for the Internet - Click 2 times for email - and so on. She'll call all upset because she can't make the cursor go down to the body of the "letter" in email. I've set up bookmarks, but she has to figure out how to get to the internet to get to her bookmarks. I even made a recording of the screen for her. Maybe I can convince her to practice.

  5. Saikat Basu
    February 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Maybe these resources can help you out:

    Top 8 Websites To Help Senior Citizens Obtain Basic Internet And Computer Skills | http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/top-8-websites-senior-citizens-obtain-basic-internet-computer-skills-si/

    What Should Computer Noobs Be Taught First? [You Told Us] | http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/computer-noobs-taught-told/

    10 Helpful Resources on the Basics For The Computer Illiterate | http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/10-helpful-resources-computer-illiterate/

    Teach An Elderly Person How To Email, Browse The Web & More With Eldy | http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/teach-senior-email-browse-web-eldy/

    But yes, it is all about patience and motivating them with the right things. For instance, she might want to chat with friends…or look up recipes. Use those for leveraging her learning.

    • Becky Bowman
      March 1, 2013 at 12:37 am

      Thank you so much for sharing these sites. I had no idea MakeUseOf had this information. I think this is where I'll start with her. She's so paranoid about giving out her credit card info or any personal information that she will be limited in many things. I have to pay for things from Amazon cause she doesn't want her credit card info on the internet, but we'll try one thing at a time.

    • Saikat Basu
      March 1, 2013 at 5:22 am

      Don't you have virtual credit cards or something similar that have smaller spending limits? Maybe, you can try out those. Why her,even I am paranoid about giving out my credit card information :) But it is going to a slow and gradual process, so take it step by step. Best of luck.

  6. Alan Wade
    February 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Build up her interest slowly. Take her to the various sites you think she would like the most such as Amazon etc.
    Once you have her attention, then she will want to learn.

  7. Namanyay Goel
    February 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Simple: Be patient, and start small. Instead of teaching her how to browse amazon, teach her how to google things and get answers. Then, maybe explain what Amazon and Yahoo, etc, are. Teach her a bit about the web.

    As you say she's smart, try giving her a few articles about the internet, how it works, etc.

    Best of luck!

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