Get Your Older Parents & Grandparents Into the 21st Century

Jacques du Rand 2020-09-27

If you're in your twenties right now, it's probably really hard for you to imagine life without social media, a great little laptop and generally just being connected to the world through your phone.

You're super fortunate if your grandparents know their way around FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Whatsapp, or needless to say, know how to use and own a laptop - but if you do, you're in the minority.

This article is for anyone else who needs to help bring their older family members into the 21st century.

The 21st Century Transition

If you're in your thirties or forties, I'm sure you have some memories about having to assist your parents or grandparents to switch to a smartphone from their older Blackberry or Nokia models back in 2009 (if you were lucky!)? Or perhaps you even remember introducing them to the world of mobile phones back in mid-90s.

Perhaps, like me, you might recall having to write down instructions of use (inclusive of pictures); reload contacts ample times; and try and explain how to switch the device from silent back to sound, over the landline.

We will never quite imagine what life was like before mobile phones, laptops or social media, so of course this must be a huge transition for our older folk.

This is our life-advice guide for some key areas to help convince your parents/grandparents to become a little more digitally savvy and embrace the modern world.


Let's start with the most basic of places: Getting internet.

The older generations are so ingrained with Telkom and needing a phone line to get access to the internet, that getting them to understand the concept of fibre is hard. Luckily for you, with ADSL dying out, they simply have no choice but to switch to fibre, so you don't really have to have an arsenal of rational reasons to help them make this decision.

To check whether they qualify for fibre, check out our easy to use fibre coverage map - which will also help you to give them options of which ISPs to choose and compare pricing on packages for their network.

If they do currently have ADSL, here is our guide to getting ADSL cancelled.

When I had to help the transition with my own parents, getting them to understand that the process can be simply and easily done by filling in a form online, was groundbreaking to them. They thought they had to "know a guy" to get it installed. Just make sure you check that coverage map before making promises.


My parents seem waxed now when it comes to mobile phones - but not my grandmother so much, although I must applaud her for a recent switch from Apple to Android. Which for any long-term Apple user is a feat. Apple devices might be easy to use, but the simple direction their prices have gotten into, we recommend getting your parents hooked on Android devices first.

When the iPad came out, I really thought it would be a great way to introduce my parents to a simpler way of doing more things online, especially since they had recently transitioned to smartphones. That was a no go. They only used their smartphones for calls, and, wait for it, SMS. It took them ages to install Whatsapp and use it! To this day, I still get every single joke my mom is sent on Whatsapp, forwarded to me. Later on my mom did start using email on her phone, and got into the whole CandyCrush phase too.

My parents both still have desktop computers. Recently my dad had to get a laptop for work, but he is really struggling to use it. Now to you and I, a laptop and a desktop aren't that dissimilar. And in his case, both were from the Microsoft stack - so one would assume that the transition would be seamless. (Secretly I think they have just not updated Windows for some time - so working on 365 was a nightmare. But IMO that is generally a nightmare anyway! So I don't blame them.) They still prefer to work on the desktops though, so I'm still working on this one.

According to Assisted Living Today the easiest computer to use is a HP Pavilion and the Chromebooks also make the list. Of course Apple is also up there, but again, merely the price of buying an Apple is not feasible for everyone. If you're considering getting your folks or grandparents to use a computer, and especially if they don't need a power computer for heavy duty day to day work, we would suggest anything in the Chromebook range.

Let's talk about paying bills online. No matter how much I try, I have yet to convince my parents (and grandparents) to transition to online banking and paying anything online. They still prefer to go and queue for hours to pay a bill. So I'm still working on this one too.


When you're getting your older parents or grandparents online, there are some basic apps we would recommend to consider for safety, and also a basic lesson in safety and general precautions for being online.

My grandmother who is in her late 80s might be on a smartphone, but she refuses to use the web (or social media). She is however on Whatsapp. Only being on Whatsapp does not mean that your device is safe. We know how easy it can be to mistakenly open a malware link (possibly from those ‘chain messages') that could quickly take over and infiltrate your device without your knowledge. As a side note, let's get them to stop doing this?!

These are some of our top safety tips:

  1. High Privacy Settings - Whether on mobile or laptop, make sure you have enabled their privacy settings on the highest setting.
  2. Personal Information - Instruct them never to share personal information. It is naive to think that everyone is who they say they are online.
  3. Banking Details - Never give this to anyone. Not in email, not over the phone, and certainly not when receiving a message that you inherited a huge sum of money from a relative you didn't know you had.
  4. Accidental Spending - App stores (and some online games) have made the "accidental" click to purchase too easy. Perhaps consider adding a two-factor confirmation to the general app store for any purchases on the device.
  5. Downloads - Instruct them not to download anything from the web without making sure it is from a trusted source.
  6. Location Permissions - Almost everything in your mobile device shares location settings. This means that if you take a photo and share that, the data could be used to track your location. This is a tricky one actually, as if you want to get hold of your grandparents in an emergency situation for example, you would want to track them/their mobile device (or if that device got stolen). But you don't want anyone else to be able to do this. Our recommendation is to set up limitations for the apps that use location services.
  7. Anti-Virus Software - There is a very basic level of defence with the built-in "Windows Defender" from Microsoft, but you can do a lot better with packages like: Avira, BitDefender or Kaspersky


Any older adult child may have experienced the situation whereby they've had to remotely guide an older parent, or grandparent to "fix" something that has gone awry on their relevant device.

These are some apps we found that could make your life easier for those future scenarios.

  1. VPN - To help make their devices a little safer, consider installing a VPN. VPNs can be installed on mobile or desktop devices, and help save your device from malware, and also keeps your location information safe, amongst other things VPNs are great for.
  2. Remote Desktop App - Install a remote desktop app to their desktop/laptop so that you are able to fix their computer from anywhere. Some of these are also accessible from mobile, so you don't have to be on your computer to manage theirs remotely. TeamViewer or LogMeIn are both great choices.
  3. Shortcuts - It might not be an app per say, but installing shortcuts to their favourite apps or programs directly to the first screen of the phone, or desktop of the computer, will make life a lot easier.


The "modern" family parent probably has the greatest burden when it comes to getting everyone together besides arranging a family lunch (which is not always possible). These parents act as the "middle layer" between elderly grandparents and their super connected children.

Modern kids have grown up in a digital life, whereas their grandparents (for the most part) have grown up in a physically social life. Getting them to become more involved with the family and day to day happenings of their grandchildren means getting them digitally savvy. Perhaps through showing them the benefits of overcoming their aversion to technology by getting a chance to interact with their grandkids on a daily basis (if they wanted) through the likes of Whatsapp/Facetime etc

Every year our lives seem to become faster and more complicated and the family get-togethers seem to lapse more easily. One way of getting the family to feel and stay a little more connected is through a family group on Whatsapp or Facebook. Whatsapp is the easier option, especially for the more technically averse. This is a place only for the family where they can share daily happenings, events, celebrations and of course, photos.


There was a time when smartphones were trying to be the smallest version of themselves. This relates to a trend when the first mobile devices came out and were all the size of bricks. At the time manufacturers were praised for making more compact versions that were easier to carry around and fit in your pocket. Recently, there seems to have been a trend that carried over into the smartphone products as well, but luckily, smartphones are seeming to become bigger in size again, as far as the screen is concerned. The larger screen size certainly helps the older generation, (and those with vision impairments), to see what's happening on the screen better.

Accessibility on devices (whether mobile or desktop) have also come a long way.

Most devices now offer built-in accessibility features ranging from screen readers to larger fonts.

Many older people also struggle to select the letters and numbers in the various mobile phone keyboards due to Arthritis, swollen hands, or other ailments. A great device you could consider (despite increasing font size on the phone) is to buy a touch screen pen to help them more easily select letters and numbers when typing. If you don't want to spend the money, I've found the back of a pencil (with an eraser) also makes a great makeshift stylus.

We hope this article has helped to inspire you to transition your older family members into the 21st century. The world is a completely different place than the one they grew up in. Help them stay connected by getting them connected and checking in on them frequently.