Grandparents traditionally play a significant role in the Australian family life, but with the government advising older people to stay home, social isolation is changing the way many now approach grandparenting.
- Grandparents are finding creative ways to connect with their grandchildren online
- Responsible grandparenting involves safeguarding your grandchild’s online footprints
- The Australian Multicultural Foundation has a CyberParent app providing information on cyber security, online bullying and social media in 17 languages
Before COVID-19, many Australian seniors had just started to catch up on internet skills and learning to use their devices.
Research by the Centre for Social Impact found that a third of the over 50s either had low digital literacy or didn’t use a digital device or the internet - that trend worsened for the over 70s with about three-quarters digitally disengaged.
The need to engage with their grandchildren in the unfamiliar digital realm has heightened a sense of anxiety and loneliness among the elderly says Elisabeth Shaw, a veteran psychologist who heads Relationships Australia NSW.
While some have been able to move online relatively easily because they were already familiar with technology, there are others who have found that transition extremely difficult so the main avenue by which you could keep contact may not be available to all grandparents equally.
Shaw says losing physical contact is particularly difficult for grandparents whose purpose and identity were built around caring for their grandchildren.
She says her organisation is experiencing a high volume of calls from socially isolated seniors. Shaw says many grandparents are keeping in touch with their grandchildren via video-conferencing.
Shaw suggests setting up regular meetings around family schedules to not leave the chat to chance.
Melbourne grandmother Effie Atkins maintains a close connection to her grandchildren as she follows strict social distancing rules to minimise the risk of infection from COVID-19 whilst living with lung cancer.
We doing gardening together in distance. When they finished,they take a photo or they Zoom and they show me what they’ve done.
Atkins is concerned about fellow Greek grandparents who may be feeling lost as they are confined at home.
She says many grandparents in her community have tight bonds with their grandchildren and had actively participated in their grandchildren’s lives before coronavirus.
Elisabeth Shaw says grandparents can still be visited by the extended family standing or having a picnic in the garden and talking to them through the back door.
Family and digital lifestyles expert Dr Joanne Orlando says social media communication apps such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime with grandchildren can be fun and engaging by cooking or dancing with the children.
Education consultant Tamara Kidd believes until a student can teach somebody else what they’ve learnt, one can never be sure that the student has completely understood what they were taught.
She encourages deepening your grandchild’s learning by getting them to teach you something they’ve learnt at least once a week on anything from language, facts to maths or science.
That way, a lot of the weight is taken off the grandparents to come up with interesting things to say or ways to entertain the grandchild.
Brisbane mother of two Mona Perez enlisted her Taiwan-based mother’s help to teach her daughter Mandarin using Zoom when her Chinese classes went online due to COVID-19.
I just ask them to keep talking Mandarin, so on the screen, my mum would teach her how to write and she would write it down and show my mum on the screen.
Brian Korner is a past president and a mentor of Brisbane Seniors Online, a volunteer-based organisation which provides computer training to seniors in the Greater Brisbane area.
He warns new users against over-sharing personal information to avoid identity theft in the dangerous online world.
Korner recommends only typing your birth date and month without the year, and only revealing your suburb without the complete street address when filling out personal profiles online.
He suggests exercising caution in what you share as stranger danger plays out in more sinister ways online since criminals could change their profiles to reach vulnerable young people.
This applies to proud grandparents who may unknowingly share photos of places their grandchildren frequent.
It’s about managing privacy settings so that posts of your grandchildren are only visible to friends and possibly friends of friends on Facebook.
Grandparents in multigenerational households can also engage their more tech-savvy grandchildren in making sense of the latest news on COVID-19 and learn about cyber security according to Dr Hass Dellal who heads the Australian Multicultural Foundation (AMF), and is also the retiring SBS chairman.
The AMF has developed CyberParent, a multilingual cyber security app in 17 languages to educate parents and grandparents on online issues, social media and popular apps.
Dr Dellal noticed that young people are getting closer to their grandparents by showing them how to use technology and educating them about the dangers of the internet.
By doing that, we’ve found there’s been obviously relationships developing in a positive way because people have had to communicate.
Elisabeth Shaw says for less digitally literate grandparents, old-fashioned phone calls with the right conversation starters such as the news of the day or sharing stories of your past life can also build lasting bonds.
She suggests avoiding dead-end questions like “how was your day?” and “have you done your homework?”.
I think it’s also about describe the best thing that happened today? What was the highlight of your day? Those sorts of questions end up with a more descriptive answer and that can be useful.
Atkins has been busy writing about her life in Greece and how she ventured out to make a new start in Australia decades ago.
It’s a life she enjoys sharing with her curious grandchildren over daily phone conversations.
Sometimes I read to them a little paragraph which they are very interested to hear so I keep them not close to me but close.
For tips on cyber security, basic online skills such as social media and online transactions, visit the federal government website: https://beconnected.esafety.gov.au
To learn about cyber security, visit https://www.esafety.gov.au/seniors
For latest information on scams and online dangers, visit http://staysmartonline.gov.au/
If you want to chat about personal, family or work issues, you can call Relationships Australia NSW’s Time 2 Talk free telephone service on 1300 022 966 Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.
Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.
SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.