Reading the news this morning, I saw yet another headline stating how our digital age is isolating and dividing people instead of uniting and drawing us closer. This often seems like an ugly side effect of our modern society. While most of us find ourselves more connected than ever before through our smartphones, tablets and computers - seemingly having the world at our fingertips - the consequence often seems to be more and more people feeling alone. Older adults often feel left behind and frustrated by rapidly changing technology that they don’t understand, while young adults face the reality of being extremely tech savvy, but more isolated by the ever intensifying pressure and scrutiny that our digital world often brings. Both generations are yearning for community and deeper connections, but are often disillusioned by what they find. The rise of cyberbullying, along with an overriding lack of privacy, only exacerbate the issue. The challenge of bridging this divide is only increasing as technology advances. The ultimate question being, how do we create meaningful connections?
When Trish Lopez founded Teeniors four years ago, it was with the primary goal of tackling this issue, bringing together two generations, and allowing each group to learn from their unique life experiences. Teeniors is a small startup based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which focuses on helping seniors learn technology through one-on-one personalized coaching with young adults. We strive not to just “fix” the tech problem as fast as possible, but to empower the individual to understand, use and enjoy their technology. Coaching sessions can be scheduled to take place either in our offices, or in a client’s home, depending on the technology involved as well as the needs of the client. Our coaches specialize in all areas of technology, from helping a client learn the basics of their new smartphone or tablet, learning a new piece of software, hooking up a printer, or even setting up a smart TV.
Each month, Teeniors also offers multiple group sessions throughout our community. Coaches will come to an area senior center or retirement community for a two hour time period in which members or residents are able to bring their devices (laptops, cellphones, tablets, etc) and work free of charge for 30 - 40 minutes with a coach. We just passed a significant milestone in August - celebrating the 4th anniversary of our first client. With over 2,000 people in Albuquerque alone having been personally tutored in those years, the human impact is being felt far and wide.
For the coaches, the results have included increased self confidence, greater communication skills, and higher self-esteem. For the older adults being coached, the results are often an increased confidence in their ability to learn something new and stronger engagement with their families and the world around them.
One particularly good example of this is Terri Thorple, who wanted to learn how to access and print her boarding passes online. After finishing her session, Terri burst into tears: “For someone who is alone, who has no young people in their life, you have all given me hope. Someone who will help us and not yell at us? You welcomed me the moment I walked in. You didn’t make me feel stupid or condescended to. I hope you realize the impact of what you are doing for people like me.”
This is just one example out of many. At every stage of life, everyone hungers for connection and the feeling of being part of something. That what they are doing matters and makes a difference. Connection has always been, and will always be our primary goal at Teeniors. Allowing especially older people to feel empowered, emboldened and engaged with the world.
Below are 3 tips for fostering more meaningful connections between young adults and seniors, or anyone in your life:
Be Present and Patient. Know that not everyone learns the same way, and learning a new skill - whether it be how to use a smartphone or cook a new recipe - takes time and repetition. While it is easy to do, a good rule of thumb is to let your loved one be in control of their pace in learning. For example, at Teeniors, the client holds the device. The coaches point and direct. But regardless of what you’re teaching - if you are already thinking of your next meeting, or jumping ahead to the “answer” while your loved one is still thinking about the question, you are not fully present and it will show.
Play to Strengths to Find Common Ground. This goes for just about everyone. The more we understand a subject, the more likely we are to engage with it. When it comes to technology, a great example would be matching an older person who loves taking pictures, but may not be as familiar with the technology needed to upload them to a computer, with a younger person who can show them how to use that skill to compose portraits on their smartphone and edit a short video clip to send to their kids out of state.
Create a Space of Knowledge Sharing. Everyone has a skill that they excel at. Whether it is how to grow the best tomatoes, cook a delicious meal, or edit an amazing video for YouTube, identify your strengths. Bringing generations together can be as simple as talking to one another. Never underestimate how much you, or others, have to share.
If you would like to learn more about Teeniors, please visit: teeniors.com.