In 2009 while attending the National Association for Home Care and Hospice’s annual meeting, I had the great privilege to attend a session led by the inspirational former Secretary of State and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, who recalled a time when extended families lived in the same neighborhoods during a time when community members looked after one another.
As he reminisced and joked about his childhood growing up in the Bronx during the 1940s, he noted that the deterrent that kept the kids in line could be referred to as “The Auntie-Net.” He told the audience that he had more aunts and uncles than his mom and dad had sisters and brothers living on the same street.
You see, instead of calling family friends Mr. or Mrs. – this was far too formal and referring to them by their first names was too informal – so like many families from this era, they referred to close friends of the parents as “aunts and uncles.” This network of “aunts” would sit by the front windows of their homes or out on the steps in front of the house keeping an eye on the children playing in the streets. The aunties would make sure the children stayed in line, and if not they would report back to parents. Colin Powell mused, if you think the Internet is an information superhighway, there is no faster way of relaying information than the “Auntie-Net.” Bad news about the neighborhood kids getting out of line would travel faster down the street than any of them could ever run. Secretary Powell’s central message was that we have no greater obligation than to take care of our fellow human beings.
I reflected on his speech when I began to think about how we can help our older adult population adapt to the digital age. For every kid who owns an iPhone, I wonder how many aging adults are trying to figure out how to use their smartphone. For every kid easily navigating iTunes, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, I wonder how many aging adults are frustrated when instructed to download forms from their doctor’s office. I have witnessed the frustration of aging seniors in the digital age, and it occurred to me that we should tap one of our communities’ most valuable resources, grandchildren.
My wife, Susie, and I are parents to three daughters and often say jokingly, “Just go to the Millennial School of Technology, push every button and you will figure it out.” The kids today are not intimidated by computers, tablets or smartphones. They are not afraid they will break something or lose something or not be able to get out of something. Computers today are much more user-friendly. Let’s engage the children to forge this friendship. I can’t think of a better way to get a stubborn old dog to learn a few new tricks than to spend an afternoon with a grandchild. Community centers, synagogues and churches are ideal places to pair those who live in different cities from their own families.
How about a field trip to the Apple genius bar, or an IT class to take with a grandparent? Have you seen the kids today? Chances are you may have only seen them from the eyes up. The rest of their face is covered by their smartphone. Let’s get them from behind their phone and in front of Grandpa. For the grandparents who are reading this and nodding your heads in agreement, pass this along to your kiddos and ask for some help.
Using websites to research ancestry and create a family tree is a great way to introduce computer literacy. How about making Grandma a song playlist, “Granny’s Favorite Songs of All Time”?
Music is such a powerful emotional tool and the perfect antidote to relieve frustration. Try searching for recipes, great moments in sports, all the presidents in Grandpa’s lifetime.
Many children of today have actively involved parents who sometimes walk a tightrope between helicopter and concierge. We love our kids and cannot do enough for them. I think the time has come to return the love and task our children and grandchildren with helping their grandparents. The younger generations have the tools and knowledge to share with their grandparents and the result all around is one great big win. The possibilities are endless and the time spent bridging generations is truly priceless.
Bob Roth is managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions, LLC. Visit cypresshomecare.com.