Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 4, 2013

Connected Grandparents: Online Safety and Older Adults

Project Administrator, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)

Last week, rumblings of an app called FamZoom surfaced online. While the download won’t make its way to mobile markets for a while, the Web was still buzzing. Why? Its designers are grandparents. 

Seniors Charlie and Maria Girsch wanted a better way to communicate with their bicoastal children and grandchildren. Toy designers and inventors by trade, the two worked tirelessly to develop an app to help them do it. The product: FamZoom. 

While there are certainly other older adults with their level of technical and design savvy, Charlie and Maria are the exception and not the rule. 

Older adults are online 

It’s true, older adults are fast making their way into networked spaces. In fact, 53% of American adults age 65 and up reported using the Internet or email last year. However, despite their increased adoption, many older adults do not have the skills or information they need to keep themselves safe and secure online. What’s more, research shows that senior citizens are often too trusting online – making them more susceptible to phishing, fraud, and identity theft scams. 

Despite these vulnerabilities, older adults can significantly benefit from technology use. 

Emails, texting, and social networks are an easy way for them to connect with distant family members, and can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Increasingly, older adults can access medical information and stay in touch with healthcare professionals through email – making it easier for those with physical limitations to get the care they need. 

Instead of cutting grandparents off from these avenues, let’s teach them to use technology safely. Just because Charlie and Maria are the exception, doesn’t mean that the grandparents in our lives can’t be safe messagers, posters, and surfers with a little training. 

Reverse the roles 

Are you a parent? Have the “tech talk” with your parents. Discuss the safety basics with them – don’t post personal information, don’t talk to strangers, beware of things that sound too good to be true – and review the networks or services they use together. 

Really want to reverse the roles? Have your teens teach them the ropes. (Do Something’s Grandparents Gone Wired campaign is a fun way to inspire them to get their grandparents or other seniors connected.)

Regardless of who does the teaching, starting the conversation and encouraging older adults to be safe online is important. Plus, you never know, you might have the next app-developing grannie on your hands… 

Cover image courtesy of Flickr