Parenting your Parents with Technology
A few thoughts to help your aging parents with tech.
So far we have addressed issues of our children’s digital safety and our own, but today we will focus on the other adults we are often responsible for. Many of us are in the sandwich generation, sandwiched between caring for our own minor children and our adult parents. We are very careful of any tech decision we make regarding ourselves and our children, but frankly we are comfortable to basically hand a device to our parent and say “Here you go!” and walk away confident in our misconception that they will automatically be as savvy with it as we are. We know that they are smart, heck, they taught us, many of us still see them as super human to some extent. We know they are professionals, or retired professionals anyways, and they worked with computers for the second half of their life, so they are as good at this as we are. Right?
What I have seen in almost every case is this couldn't be further from the truth. For starters, our parents worked in an era when computers were new, not commonplace, and the companies they worked for and retired from had IT departments who were used to working with older people who really didn't understand the PC and didn't love it. The corp IT people worked everyday making dads office pc work and he never once understood what exactly they, or his computer, did. Now those parents of ours are out in the big open world of the internet and they assume that it is the same as their corporate environment. Everyone is there for the same reason and everyone is on the same team working to the same goal and even if Jerry in accounting was a bit of a jerk, he wouldn't delete dads work on purpose, or intentionally take advantage of him. Because of this learned trust, our parents go out into the internet with the same unfounded naivety and optimism. They think that every site is inherently safe and everyone offering to help them is actually trying to help. When the foreign call center rings them in the evening and says they have a problem with their computer or router and need to remote into it to fix it, Mom and Dad let them. After all, why would they lie? I see this several times a week. A client calls me because their aging parent answered a phone call and gave remote access and $300 to someone they could barely understand because it “was Microsoft” and they told them they have a problem. It isn’t because our parents are gullible or dumb, they just have never been trained for this. We grew up in a world where you never trust the internet. We spent our whole life learning about malware and how to avoid it, the dangers of social hacks and not to give out our personal data over the phone. They have not. Following are some simple steps you can take to help them.
First, Sit down with them and have a conversation. Be humble and don’t be pushy. Explain to them that you really care and that you think they may need some help with the PC and their personal security online. Don’t be accusatory, don’t push, don’t talk down to them. Seriously, it is really easy to do and often we don’t even realize we are doing it. Smile at them. Hug them. Explain that some bad things are happening to other people their age because of the way they were taught to use the PC. This gives them the chance to accept your help without having to be wrong. Be positive and upbeat with them. Your parents are just like you only older. They want and need the same respect you want. Before you talk to them think about the last time you talked to a “computer expert”, think about how condescending they seemed, (maybe they were awesome, and if they were and you were totally happy, GREAT! Keep that IT person forever, because most have little or no social skills) After you replay that conversationor training session with the IT guy, edit it so you can not sound like a condescending jerk. Explain that there are unscrupulous people in the world who use the internet and computers to steal from people. Explain that there are some best practices that you can help them with that will keep them much safer, and explain to them that they don’t have to use any of these that they don’t want to, but if they don’t they may be more vulnerable. Remember, they are yours to protect, but unlike your children, they are grown adults and are allowed to make mistakes, your job isn't to stop them as it is with your kids, it is simply to educate and advocate. Show them what to do, offer to help them do it, and walk away lovingly if they opt not to. Explain to them all the things in the list below and get their permission to mess with their stuff. Even though you know more than they do about this and maybe even you bought the equipment they have, out of respect for their independence, you can’t mess with their tech without their full knowledge or permission. I can not stress this enough. I see this all the time. The parent doesn’t ask the adult child for help because “every time I ask for help he just sweeps in and changes everything and I don’t know what to do after he leaves” I have heard this so many times, keep it in mind as you help. Recommend, but don’t force. The last bit of preaching I will do about helping your aging parents with tech is this, don’t do it all in one day. They have a system. If you change one step in that system today and one step later, they will have a better chance of internalizing that one change and normalizing it. If you change everything at once, you will confuse them and make them resistant and angry. Also, if you explain that you will be making the needed changes a little at a time over a longer period, they may see this as an opportunity to spend more time with you and welcome it. OK, now we have our parent happy and working with us, what do we do next?
The second thing I would do is log into their PC, go to user accounts and see if they are set as admin. If they are, make a new user account, name it Admin or something, maybe name it after you, which ever. Set it as admin on the PC, give it a password that you write down on the list below. Next, log in as the new admin user and change your parent to a standard user. This is NOT to lock them out or protect them from themselves. This is because it is the best possible way to use your PC.(if you weren’t already aware, this is a great tip for you too.) Never do your daily surfing and work on your PC as admin. If you are logged in with administrator privilege on the PC and you get malware, it is installed at that elevated level with admin authority. Instead, always use your PC as a standard user and then whenever you have a program try to make material changes to your PC, it will ask you for the admin credentials. This way, if something you didn’t ask for all of a sudden asks for your admin password you can just click NO and protect your self from the malware. The same is true for your parents, if something asks them to go to the list and get the password, that alone will make them think twice about allowing it, especially when they read the list to find it, but we will get to that in a minute. Next, while logged in as admin, set their Windows updates to automatic, turn on their Windows Defender or what ever antivirus you or they prefer, and set it to do everything automatically and to scan everything and removable drives. Also activate the Windows Firewall if it isn't already. The last thing you want to do while inside their PC as admin, is set up some, any backup scheme. This is critical to your sanity in the future and will also help them. It doesn’t matter at all what type of backup you want to use as any at all is better than none. (I personally prefer Acronis True Image because it is a searchable archive, single files can be restored from it, it is a versioned backup and you can program it to clean itself up so the disk lasts longer… but that is just my opinion) The one piece of advice I will give here is make sure it is automated and zero touch once it is installed and activated. You don’t want to have to rely on them to remember to do something or HOW to do something as critical as a backup. Remember, backups at their office happened magically at night and were the results of spells and mechanizations crafted by the IT gnomes in their evil lair. :) In other words, while your parents probably agree that a backup is important, they probably don’t have one yet and probably have zero idea HOW backups work. Not because they are dumb, but because they had other people worry about that and have never been trained for it.
So, we have them happy and onboard with our changes, we have them using the PC as a standard user and the PC is automatically updating, malware protecting and backing up. The next thing to do is make that list we talked about. On the very top of it write the words “No big company will call you out of the blue to help you fix your stuff, they don’t care. You don’t matter to them. Microsoft will never cold call you. They don’t know you and they don’t care about you. If anyone calls and says they are microsoft, they are lying. If you are looking at this list to find the password so that you can give it to someone on the phone, DON’T! If anyone calls you and says you have a problem with any part of your computer or network, THEY ARE LYING! HANG UP.” I know this sounds stupid but I swear, they do not think of this. Someone calls, sounds very official, and the next thing you know they have given remote access to someone from Romania. (if you are from Romania, I mean no disrespect, however like 80% of the hack phone calls I have to respond to are from there. The rest are from South Africa, no kidding…) Then you (or they) are paying for a person like me to fix their stuff and praying that person is scrupulous. After that, and in any order you want, make these notes for them: The admin password for the PC. The company, brand or software name of the backup they are using now, and any instruction they may need in case of a notification from it. Their wifi password if they have it. The name and number of your (or their) local trusted computer expert. If there are any items you can think of, add those also, and please, drop me a note with some of your suggestions and I will add them into this post.
Next, sit down again with them and explain everything you did and demonstrate how it all works so there is no mystery for them. While you are chatting about tech with them, you can share with them some of the items from my earlier posts. Teach them the app store and how to judge apps that are helpful and appropriate. Teach them about posting photos and go over with them how to turn of the location data or scrub the metadata from the file before they post it. Remind them that you can’t trust everything you see or read online. Remind them that the internet is full of predators that are just waiting to take advantage of them if they are not wary. Remind them not to give out personal info on webpages or over the phone. Remind them not to respond to email solicitations and if they get an email from “their bank” don’t assume it is OK, instead, always consider anything connected to your identity or money to be suspect and if they do get that email, don’t open it, and immediately call their bank. If the bank did want something from them, they will tell them during that conversation. Remind them to only give out information during phone calls they (your parents) initiate. If your bank calls you, hang up and call your bank back using the number you always use, that way they can not be taken advantage of by telemarketing style social hacks. Remind them to set rules for social media, like only accepting friend requests from people you already know. Remind them how not to overshare. One thing about oversharing that puts them at risk is when they “check in” from some place. If they have followed everyone that offered them a friend request, and they check in from a distant town, those not so much friends know they are not home and may consider it a safe time to rob their house. I love to post photos and reviews of places I go, but I do it after the fact, once I am back home. No one needs to know where I am unless I tell them on purpose. Remind them to read everything that comes up on the screen and if they get a popup to consider it fake first. Don’t assume the popups on your screen are legit and above boards all the time automatically, suspect them of being malicious at first and think twice about doing what they say. Close them, navigate away from the page and move on. If they tell you have have to click something to be safe or to call an 800 number, they ARE malicious.
For all the items above I have redundantly used the word REMIND. The reason is this, don’t tell them. Don’t teach them. Don’t instruct them. If you come at them from the mindset of reminding them of something they already knew, you will not sound condescending and they will be much more likely to listen and proceed. Remember, we don’t care HOW they learn this, as long as they do and in the end we don’t care who’s idea it was or how it all happened, as long as it does.
A few final thoughts of things that you can add to the list: A good keyboard shortcut to write down for them (and yourself) is AltF4. This is an old Windows shortcut that basically tells the PC “close whatever is on top” this is great for anything. Got a popup, AltF4. Browser gets stuck on a webpage, AltF4. You get the idea. Also, tell them to turn the PC off when it isn't in use. Lots of people argue this one and yes, modern PC’s are designed to run nonstop, but a PC that is OFF is much less vulnerable to power fluctuations, the electrical pathways in it are not slowly building resistance for no good reason and frankly, a PC that is OFF is really hard to hack… Just saying. Also, remind them to use sound judgement when signing up for new sites, do they really need to give info to someone to log in and do that thing? Maybe yes, but it is at least worth asking. Go over their password creation scheme with them and make sure they have a good strong password scheme that is different across sites, that is written down offline, and doesn’t contain any info that could be derived by google searching the parent. (Like important dates or address).
Most of the above information is focused at the Windows PC user (which is over 70% of the home computer market, so it seems like a strong start), however these concepts are valid for Mac and Linux users also, although if your parents are Linux users, you probably don’t need to have this conversation… Some of the methods change on a Mac, like the way to make standard users and administrator, but concept and the need is the same. If you want more info on any of these steps on your specific device, just email me, I am happy to help.
These ideas are solid for mobil users also, but the processes are vastly different and I may go into much more detail on how to do this on a smartphone or a tablet in a future post.
Next, ask them if there are any questions they have about using the PC. Sure it is more secure now, but are they really using it the way they had in mind when they got it. More than likely they do have a few questions, (and most of the questions will be super easy, remember , you grew up with tech, they didn’t.), while you are having this conversation with your parent, ask them if they have any questions about any other devices they own. If they have a PC, they likely have a smartphone also, and there is a strong chance you gave it to them. Did you really instruct them lovingly on its basic use when you dropped it off? It surprises me every week how many people have devices that they never bother to learn how to use. Most of the time their response is that the younger people are “so much smarter about these things” or they are “too old to ever understand this” Most of the time, this is BS. They can understand if they are trained, but they learn a different way than younger people do. Our parents generation was instructed in how to learn from training. They had hands-on classes, apprenticeships and On-the-Job training, all these are basically gone from the bulk of today’s education processes. So reassure them that they really can learn it, the kids aren’t smarter, just more motivated. Tell them you will take as much time to show them as they need, then what I always do, after showing them once or twice how to do something, I have them do it a few times while I am still there, watching them and helping them as they do it. This works for my older less tech savvy clients more often than not. Try it, you may be surprised. The benefit you gain from this last step is that your parents become less of an anchor for you as they are more confident and more capable, which makes your life easier. It also means you may be seeing more of them online and even having to field a FaceTime call or two from them before the novelty wears off, but in the end it is your gain. I will leave you with this info on one final reminder. Smile at them, don’t be judgmental, be positive. Thru all this, show them love and kindness and that you are happy to help.