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6 ways to be better tech support for your parents

Teach parents tech

This past Sunday morning, I had just sat down to breakfast— avocado toast and a poached egg. The kids had eaten earlier, so I had a rare moment of quiet in which to savor my breakfast. Rare. Quiet. Avocado. Yes.

No sooner than I had taken the first bite did my dad call, and I found myself fielding the ever-familiar long distance tech support call. The ones from my dad usually start with an understated, “Carl, a funny thing is happening…”.

15 minutes later, I can usually walk him through the solution, though it’s a miracle if no one has raised their voice.

[highlight] Teaching your parents about their computers and smartphones is as much about the art of communication as it is about your proficiency with tech[/highlight]. In fact, most of their questions are easily Googled— it’s more about how to feed them the answers without making them feel stupid or condescended to. Because, of course, your parents aren’t stupid— my father is a serial entrepreneur and one of the smartest humans I know. But not knowing where his accidentally-collapsed browser window went, or why an email that looks like it’s from his bank is actually a phishing scam (things that are somewhat logical to our generation and positively innate to our children), can make him feel vulnerable and even emotional.

Before your know it your poached egg is cold and your conversation is heated.

Over the years, I’ve honed my skills when it comes to providing tech support for my parents, and here are the things I’ve learned along the way.

1. If at all possible, encourage your parents to use the same devices you use. At one point, my father used a Windows computer. Though I am fairly proficient at the Windows OS, I don’t use it often, and go for stretches without having a Windows computer in my home. That was a dark time for tech support— it’s always so much easier if you can grab your phone, open it up and walk your parent through the actions they need to take while your’e doing it. Your instructions will be much clearer that way.

2. Give it your full attention. I swear, my dad can smell it if I’m checking my Instagram or email while we’re talking on the phone. If I resolve to give it my full attention, I’m more likely to get to the end faster, and without inciting a riot. Plus, it’s just a courtesy to focus. But geez, sometimes it’s hard.

3. Set up Screenshare, video chat, or remote assistance. There’s no substitute for seeing the problem first-hand. A remote assistance program like LogMeIn allows you to log into your parents computer and make changes remotely. It’s perfect for long-distance tech support, and you can even do things like run a diagnostic program or update their software to make sure things are current. For mobile phone or tablet woes, a video chat like Skype is better than being in the dark— they can point to things they don’t understand and you’ll be much better equipped to offer suggestions.

4. Prompt them to practice. Most of us learn most effectively by doing, not by being told. If you walk your parent through checking their spam folder for missing emails, set a reminder to call them in a couple days and ask them to do it again. I have found that the repetitive task helps them cement the skill, and you’ll be less likely to get the same call a couple months later.

5. Set back-ups to run in the background. Making sure your parents’ data, contacts, calendar and email are backing up automatically will prevent you from getting the distress call when a hard drive goes back or a computer gets lost. It’s just good common sense to make sure they have a basic back-up plan in place (and while you’re at it, make sure yours is set up too).

6. Be kind, and be patient. Okay this one might go without saying— these are your parents, after all. Except, when the back and forth gets going and frustrations peak, things get… testy. So before you engage in tech support of any kind, take a deep breath and embody the patience of buddha. Chant a mantra, and know that, at the end of the day, you’re doing a great thing by helping your parents navigate the ever-changing, often-confusion world of tech.

What are your biggest frustrations with helping your parents with their technology? What are some of the cutest tech-support questions you’ve fielded?  Let me know in the comments!

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