Why Grandma Can’t Learn To Text

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

Sometimes you run across a senior who knows how to use technology. They’re a whiz with their iPhone, their computer, and any other devices they own. But admit it, when you come across one of these older folks, your response is usually astonishment, right?

Because it seems so rare.

You’re used to the opposite. You’ve tried to get grandma and grandpa to text, but they seem to be completely bewildered by the process.

Maybe if you understood the reasons why your grandparents are struggling with this, perhaps you would be a little more patient.

And that’s reason number one: patience.

If you were to ask a group of seniors how they got their phone, many would say it was given to them by their kids or grandkids. And that would be followed by the lament that no one has taken time to teach them how to use it, that they were expected to quickly grasp all the nuances right away. Most young people today are practically born with a phone or iPad in their hand, and it becomes second nature to them, so they don’t understand why their grandparents struggle. They don’t see how strange the buttons and operating system looks to them.

Which leads to reason number two: what the buttons do.

Kids have no trouble pushing buttons at random, saying to themselves, “what does this do, what does this do?” That’s part of being young, this fearlessness of discovery.

Meanwhile, seniors want to know what a button does before they push it.

This comes from the training of a lifetime of getting burned or hurt by something they tried, of failing at things in the past because they didn’t understand or know how to do them. So it’s ingrained that seniors double check before they push a button. The biggest fear for grandma is that she will hit a button that will accidentally erase everything, or possibly send missiles into the air.

Seniors also struggle with many of the terms now being used to describe the phones and its interface. Things that used to be called one thing are now called another. For example, what was a program on a computer in their day is now called an app. They still believe sim cards contain all their contacts (they don’t).

Passwords are another place where seniors get into trouble.

They’re already struggling with memory issues, so to add the many passwords we use on a daily basis is just more than their memory can handle. And lack of patience is an issue here, as well. In the interests of expediency, sometimes the kids or grandkids will speedily set up the phone for their grandparents, without explaining what they are doing and why.

This is not setting grandpa up for success.

If he forgets his password, resetting it becomes a nightmare if he doesn’t know how two factor authentication works, or if he doesn’t know the answers to the security questions because someone answered them for him.

Now let’s talk about some of the physical issues that keep seniors from using their phones well. Some of them may be obvious, like their eyesight. Bifocals, trifocals, cataracts; all of them contribute to squinting at the tiny screens. Sure, they can make the text bigger and zoom into things, but that means less information on the screen, sometimes resulting in a lack of understanding of what they’re looking at. Try it yourself. Crank up the text size and zoom features, and see how difficult it is, and how much scrolling you have to do.

Another physical issue is motor skills.

Have you seen your grandparent’s hands shake? Have you noticed the arthritis? Imagine tapping on a tiny screen when you can’t do it with precision. Also, over the years the skin on the pads of their fingers wear away, so using a fingerprint system often doesn’t work.

Finally, how they communicate is different.

When seniors were young, there were limited ways of communicating with someone, usually the phone, writing letters, or talking face to face. Texting seems cold and distant to them.

Have you ever received a text from a parent that seems like a letter, including “Love, Mom” at the end? It’s the way they’ve communicated most of their life. They don’t understand how a group of teenagers can sit at a table and not speak at all, choosing to text the person right across from them.

I hope I’ve shown you why it’s not easy for them.

They need you to slow down. Whatever time you think it should take them to learn, quadruple it. And don’t just show them how. Explain what things do, and why. Remember, they want to know what something does before they press it. And one of the first things you should teach them is how to get out of trouble. Explain about back buttons, and the word cancel.

Let’s be real, ultimately you bought the phone for you, not grandma.

You want her to connect with you in your way without stopping to think about the way she wants you to connect with her. The way she’s connected with others for many more years than you’ve been alive, the ways she’s comfortable with.

So cut grandma and grandpa some slack. And suck it up and just call them once in awhile.

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George “Ace” Acevedo

George “Ace” Acevedo

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Writer. Voice actor. Musician. Photographer. Cleaner of litter boxes.