Grandparents in the Digital Age: How Tech is Bringing Families Together
Covid-19 has brought innumerable challenges to the modern world and, with no immediate end to lockdown restrictions in sight, digital technology has come into its own. Demand for apps like Zoom and Skype have skyrocketed as friends and families attempt to recreate their social lives online.
This is particularly the case for families with older relatives, many of whom have needed to self-isolate for many months. Keeping in touch has become more important than ever, particularly as we near the winter season. Some would argue that – in actual fact – the pandemic has brought families closer together, albeit not necessarily in the same room.
Video chat services have become a necessity
For many grandparents losing regular contact with their grandchildren has taken a huge emotional toll. Questions like “when can I hug my grandchildren?” are commonplace, and the answer is rarely straightforward.
It comes as no surprise, then, that video chat services like Skype and Zoom have become much more popular as families try to find ways to bridge the gap with their older relatives. However, far from putting strain on these relationships, research by the London School of Economics has shown that these digital interactions actually bring families closer together.
There are a number of potential reasons for this, but the most likely is that it’s often easier to schedule a video chat than an in-person meetup. This results in more contact time and – as a result – closer family relationships.
Live-in care options make it easier for elderly family members to engage with technology
For elderly relatives wrestling with modern technology, live-in care can be a godsend. Organisations like Helping Hands, who provide full-time live-in carers, pride themselves on creating strong relationships between carers and their clients. This includes understanding their needs and helping them with their day-to-day activities.
When it comes to things like weekly Skype calls having someone nearby to help with the occasional technical ‘gremlin’ can make all the difference. This is particularly the case when there are mobility issues or other disabilities that can be a barrier to digital technology.
Hospitalised family members are able to maintain contact during Covid-19
One big impact on Covid-19 is the increase in hospital visitor restrictions. Whilst understandable, the reduced contact at a time when a patient is feeling especially vulnerable can have profound consequences.
In response to this, The Centre for Telehealth at the Medical University of South Carolina have been setting up ‘visitation iPads’ in a number of hospitals across the USA. These are specially configured to make it easy for multiple users to log in to various chat services, allowing for regular communication with larger family groups.
The Centre started with ICU patients, stating that “most patients in ICUs don’t have their own devices, and they’re critically ill and have a real need for connection with their families”. For Grandparents hospitalised during the pandemic technological solutions like this one can make all the difference when it comes to sustaining regular contact with their families.
Voice-activated smart technology makes it easier to get in touch
Smart devices like Alexa, Google Nest and HomePod can be a blessing or a curse, though they do make it much easier to activate and engage with digital technology. Many of these devices now come with screens making it easy to start and end video calls using only your voice.
This increased engagement has created a wealth of new opportunities for grandparents to engage with their grandchildren, from reading bedtime stories, helping with homework or just catching up on the day’s events. It’s unsurprising, then, to find that in many cases relationships are improved and strengthened as a result.
Video games have a hugely increased demographic
Previously the domain of the younger generations, video games started to evolve back in 2006 with the launch of the Nintendo Wii. The first games console to successfully target the ‘non-gamer’ community, the console emphasised its potential for family game time.
Flash forward 14 years and the mobile gaming environment has built itself around similar concepts. Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store have a huge range of games available for a wide range of players, and the user demographic is wider than it’s ever been.
Grandparents can now engage with their grandchildren online, be it playing online Scrabble or building virtual worlds together. At times of social distancing the engagement and distraction of online games can make a huge difference.
However you look at it, digital technology has changed grandparenting and – many would argue – has brought families closer together. During Covid-19, and as the winter months approach, this technology will become more important than ever.
Parenting for a Digital Future. London School of Economics, 2018: https://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/research/research-projects/parenting-for-a-digital-future
Helping Hands website: https://www.helpinghandshomecare.co.uk/live-in-care/
Tips for Grandparenting in the Digital Age. Over 60: https://www.oversixty.com.au/lifestyle/family-pets/grandparenting-in-the-digital-age
Technology Brings People Together Even as Coronavirus Keeps Them Apart. Medical University of South Carolina, 22 April 2020: https://web.musc.edu/about/news-center/2020/04/22/center-for-telehealth-facilitates-patient-family-connection
Bringing Communities and Families Together: COVID-19. AbilityNet, 26 May 2020: https://abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/bringing-communities-and-families-together-covid-19
This is a guest post by Lily Harris