High-Tech Grandparents Connect from Afar

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2015 07:49

grandparents using social mediaLike nearly half of all grandparents in the U.S., Long Barn resident Joan Muggleton lives far from her beloved grandkids.

She is also among a growing number of grandparents bridging that distance with technology.

Muggleton, 66, uses Facebook to maintain contact with her three grandchildren – Kethry, Fiona and Sean.

Kethry, 21, and Fiona, 18, share photos, news and comments several times a day from their home in Boston. Meanwhile, Sean’s stepmom posts about the 11-year-old’s activities in Minnesota when he’s not in Boston with his mom.

Muggleton, a software developer for a nationwide tech firm, is able to visit the kids and their parents in person once or twice a year. But thanks to the Internet, she connects with them daily.

“They send pictures of themselves and their lives,” she says. “Their posts are fun, witty and intelligent.”

In turn, she shares snippets of her own life: artwork, anecdotes about the dog, updates on home renovations and local news.

In years past, she and her family tried to keep in regular touch by phone, but busy lives and the time difference made it tough to coordinate.

“Facebook has revolutionized things,” Muggleton says, pointing out that the social networking website is free and easy to access at all hours.

“You can use Facebook on any device that can access the Internet,” she explains, whether smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

Muggleton counts herself among the 72 percent of the U.S.’s 70 million grandparents who say – according to a study by the American Grandparents Association – that being a grandma or grandpa is the single most important and satisfying thing in their lives.

Likewise, that relationship is important for the grandchild. Children are generally happier if grandparents are involved in their upbringing, according to a 2013 study by Oxford University and London’s Institute of Education. That study found that a close relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can help soften the impacts of adverse life events.


Hillman and grandson on 7-year-old Cole’s first ride

Sonora grandparent Barry Hillman, 68, still has warm memories of time he spent as a child with his own grandfather in New York. “He was the guy who went climbing in the mountains with me and went fishing with me,” he says.

But maintaining a close bond long distance can be difficult. The AARP notes that 45 percent of U.S. grandparents live more than 200 miles from their grandchildren. Some live many states away or in another country. Also, 60 percent of grandparents are still working full- or part-time.

More and more grandparents are firing up desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones to bridge the gap.

Some are exchanging photos, comments and news on Facebook or starting family blogs. Others send text messages on their smartphones, often attaching photos or videos. One local grandpa recently received his morning mug of coffee – well, a photo of a cup of joe on his smartphone – from his granddaughter.

Grandparents who want to see and talk to their loved ones face-to-face in real time may choose Skype, a free web-based service that allows both conversation and a video feed. Gram can entertain the 4-year-old five states or two continents away, reading him a story and discussing the pictures. Like Muggleton, Dorrington resident Joan Patterson, 78, loves the advantages that technology offers. She and husband Walt, 80, can’t visit as often as they’d like but keep in close touch with grandchildren in Stockton, Hawaii, Nebraska and Connecticut.

Grandson Bryan, 31, and wife Janel live in Hawaii with their 7-month-old daughter, Makaela. Janel takes several photos of the baby every day and posts them on Tinybeans, an online baby journal families can share.

“We wake up in the morning and the photos are there,” Joan says. “We couldn’t do it without technology.”

She loves the ease and speed of sharing information.

“I was in a store on the phone with Janel the other day and saw some nesting boxes I thought she’d like. I took a quick photo and sent it off.” Seconds later, Janel replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Each of the grandchildren prefers different technology to communicate. Bryan uses email and Facebook. His sister Heather, 27, who lives in Connecticut, uses email and Facetime.

Landon, 15, lives in Nebraska and keeps his grandparents up to date by posting his photos on Instagram and Facebook. “He started when he was seven or eight and loves selfies and pictures with his friends,” says Joan.

The youngest grandchildren, Skylar, 21 months, and Ava, 6 months, live in Stockton. Although they’re too young for their own social media accounts, Skylar already knows how to flip through the photos on her grandma’s iPhone. “She knows that if the picture has a little triangle on it, it’s a video,” Joan says.

Walt appreciates being able to stay involved with his grandchildren via technology but is also quick to tease his wife. “She’s the only one I know who has run out of space on an iPhone,” he chuckles.

Despite the advantages of online communication, Joan admits she’d like to see young people spend more time reading “regular books.”

Barry Hillman, in both career and retirement, has been on technology’s cutting edge. But his connections with his three grandchildren in Portland have been distinctly low-tech. “None of their parents allow them to use iPads or cell phones,” he explains.

So Hillman subscribes to age-appropriate magazines for Spencer, 13, Cole, 10 and Rowan, 6. He has the magazines sent to him, reads them carefully, then writes a letter and puts a package together for each child. Those packages are a rich platform for conversation.

“When I talk to them on the phone, they’re excited,” he says.

Hillman retired as president of Condor Earth Technologies in 2011 and now devotes time to developing HealthLitNow.org, a nonprofit that promotes health literacy education. He serves on the boards of the Tuolumne County Innovation Lab and the Economic Development Authority.

Busy as he is, he tries to get to Portland to see his grandkids every three months. He also flies them down individually for up to two-and-a-half weeks at a time for what they call “Camp Pop.”

Before they arrive, he researches ideas for activities, scouring local resources to create a menu of things he thinks they’ll enjoy doing together. The grandchild gets to choose from the list.

Hillman also takes photos as he spends time with the kids. “I give them photo books at Christmas, and we relive the fun.”

“I have the time of my life with these kids,” adds Hillman. “I end up doing things I would never do otherwise.”

Talking Tech: How to Get Started

Here are some of the most popular tech communication tools, all requiring either Internet access or a mobile phone.

To begin, go to the website listed and follow the directions to set up an account. No matter which of these you use, make sure to review and carefully select your preferred privacy settings – and never assume you have total privacy.

Email  You need an email account to access most services referenced here. It’s simple to get one, but can be intimidating if you’re new to tech. Ask your most patient child, grandkid, friend or neighbor to help, or take a class.

Text messaging  Most cell phones allow you to compose and send a brief message to another mobile phone. Most allow you to attach photos or videos taken with the phone.

Facetime at apple.com/ios/facetime  Skype-like videoconferencing for Apple devices like iPhones and iPads.

Facebook at facebook.com  This is the world’s largest social network with over a billion accounts. Its users post comments, photos and short videos. You can see the same from those you approve as “friends.” Account holders must be 13 or older.

Skype at skype.com  Call from Skype to someone else on Skype anywhere in the world for free. You can simply chat or use the video feature, which allows you to see the other person in real time. You can conference other family members into the call, and share photos, documents and type in messages.

Tumblr at tumblr.com A cross between a social networking site (like Facebook and Twitter) and a blog, it’s often described as a microblog. Its users post text, photos, quotes, links, music and videos.

Twitter at twitter.com Popular microblogging network with posts limited to 140 characters or fewer. In addition to individual “tweets,” news media and business organizations post breaking news or updates, with links back to expanded articles on their websites.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2015 07:49
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