Smartphone Class for Seniors Taught by Teen Homeschooler Helps Close the Generation Gap

smartphones-retirees-2Source: The Washington Post

Once a teenager gets a smartphone in his or her hands, it’s hard to pry it away from them. However, the opposite is often true with older people. They may be afraid to pick one up, out of fear they’ll break it. 69-year-old Mary Ellen Saville admitted, “Because we didn’t grow up with it, it’s a little bit scary.” But she is now a social media savvy grandma thanks to Christian Magnuson, a 16 year-old homeschooler.

Christian, who has lived in Germany and the Pacific Islands, was teaching himself to install games on his dad’s computer when he was 4 years old, and got his first phone at age 8. He began volunteering about a year ago at the Westminster at Lake Ridge retirement community in Prince William County, Virginia. He assisted at Tuesday night sessions where people could ask tech questions.

Christian noticed that plenty of residents had smartphones – often gifts from children or grandchildren – but few knew what to do with them. “They have self-taught themselves, to a degree,” he said. “Unfortunately, that degree is they have taught themselves how to turn on their phone.”

So after a few months, Christian decided to start a smartphone class for the retirement community residents. Some of the facility’s staff even signed up for the course. He is now on his fourth session, which covers basic and advanced smartphone use. He also teaches an apps class.

By the end of the 90-minute session, the students know all the basics like how to use Facebook, Instagram, and FaceTime, taking selfies, sharing photos, sending text messages, changing their ringtones, and asking Siri the meaning of life.

The seniors also learn about other practical uses for their smartphones that they had never considered – like the emergency medical information they can enter into their phone, which ambulance crews can see without knowing the phone’s security code; and the exercise app that shows how many steps they’ve taken that day.

The first time Christian taught the class, “he was scared, worried,” said Mike Swain, a resident who runs the facility’s IT committee. “After the first two hours, Christian said, ‘That is the worst thing I’ve ever done.’ I said, ‘Christian, that’s the best class we’ve ever had.’ Because when they walked in they were holding them out in front of them like they were snakes getting ready to bite them, and at the end they were holding them close, talking to each other on the phones. . . . I don’t care how much you learn, but if you’re feeling better about it when you walk out the door, that’s the goal.”

Christian says that around 30 is the age where he sees a divide between those who instinctively understand smartphones and those who need to be taken by the hand. “There are people, say like my parents, who remember the first Mac coming out. They have a hard time,” he said.

Senior citizens, especially if they’re homebound, can benefit from a smartphone in many ways because it provides a link to the outside world. They can communicate with friends and family through email, text, pictures and social media. Since no one is more plugged into technology than kids and teens, grandparents can use that to their advantage to forge a closer bond with their grandchildren by keeping in touch with them on a regular basis.

By the same token, family members will feel reassured that their seniors can easily call if they are feeling lonely, in need of something, or have a medical issue. A smartphone enables retirees to look up health information, browse the web, and play Scrabble, Solitaire, or other games to stay mentally stimulated and pass the time. Being in a wheelchair or bedridden won’t prevent them from being able to use a smartphone, so these devices can actually come in quite handy for older folks.

Why not start a “Smartphone 101” class in your community! Girl Scout Stephanie Stanislawski had a similar idea with her “iPads for Seniors” project at Alexian Village in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. There are probably senior citizens right in your own neighborhood who could use your help. See if you can find an accessible location for conducting classes such as a community center, public library, or church. You can also check with a local senior center, adult care home, or assisted living facility. Help seniors with the gift of life-long learning and keep them up to date on changing technology!

Did you know…? There are a growing number of smartphones designed to appeal directly to the elder generation. The Jitterbug Touch is a smartphone with many senior-friendly features, starting with the simplified menu with extra-large buttons on the device’s home screen. Perhaps the biggest selling points for seniors (or their loved ones) are the phone’s easy access to emergency services and live tech support. Get one for your own grandparents and introduce them to a new way of connecting to family and friends, both young and old.

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  1. Christian Magnuson

    It was great to see this here but I thought I would point out a few things. We didn’t cover Facebook and in fact less than 4% of the resident population wanted to learn about Facebook. We didn’t cover IG in the smartphone class either but in our Apps class we did. Anyway, great to see!

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