Help me introduce my 72 year old mother to the Internet
January 14, 2014 6:30 PM   Subscribe

I bought my Mom a computer for Christmas and I'm heading down to see her this weekend to orient her to the online world.

I'd like to ask for resources and advice that might help me in this project. What exactly should I teach her?

First off, I'd like to teach her the nuts and bolts of actually using the internet. I mean, on a real basic level. This is a mouse. This, on the screen, is the cursor. You move the cursor with the mouse, etc. What are the skills to impart at her level of experience? Are there any online tutorials that she could use in my absence?

Secondly, what advice would you give to someone who is new to Internet culture? I intend to set up an anonymous account for her on a webmail service and to advise her to be wary of sharing too much information or posting under her real name. What else would you advise her? My Mom is very sensitive and I worry a little about how she would react to the sections of the web that are . . . not very sensitive.

And in closing, what are some websites I can show her that relate to her interests? Some of her interests are:

--genealogy (I have set up an account for her. That much is covered.)
--current events
--her book club
--the British Royal Family

Any help you can render me would be deeply appreciated. Many thanks in advance!
posted by jason's_planet to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor (blog about clothing and jewelry of royalty, updates frequently, so fun).

My grandparents really like looking at facebook and photo sites from their grandkids, whatever site they use (defunct kodak, flickr, whatever). They LOVE being able to see photostreams of their kids' and grandkids' lives (and they double-love it when they can click to order prints that they can show their friends and brag about). They like facebook text updates, but they LOVE photostreams.

A lot of public libraries, park districts, community centers, etc., have internet classes for seniors, which have gotten pretty good in terms of addressing seniors' competencies and concerns, so you might look into that for her.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Start her off playing Solitaire. She almost certainly already knows how to play, and it's excellent mouse training.

Also, seconding Eyebrows, the best thing for her on the internet is probably connecting with family. Facebook, Flickr, or whatever other family members use.
posted by mmoncur at 6:43 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

2nd the class! A video's nowhere near as good as being shown. I would also ensure the class (or the one after the intro one) covers basic internet security (including how to evaluate the credibility of websites). If your mom's delicate (I mean if she actually is, she may be less fragile than you think?), maybe put a blocker on? I bet she'll find her own way through the net.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:43 PM on January 14, 2014

Best answer: Mousing Around should help her with using a mouse.
posted by jabes at 6:51 PM on January 14, 2014

Best answer: Teach her how to bookmark sites and bookmark a few she might use a lot. I'm a college librarian and we get a lot of retired people from the retirement community next door. They all seem to enjoy using email and Facebook, and they often look up medical stuff. I show them reasonably mainstream reliable sites for general medical info like Merck, WebMD, Mayo. Some of them also go to their bank's site and pay bills online.
posted by mareli at 7:00 PM on January 14, 2014

My family has had good results with the practice of printing out some pictures of the actual products that my elderly relations own (like the mouse, the actual desktop box, etc) with arrows indicating which buttons are which and what they do, so that they can refer to all of those things on their own without needing to look on the internet. And also the desktop of the computer, to remind which icons go to what. I'd put her on Gmail because it's most used for other things if she needs it later. Make sure her most-used sites are all in the bookmarks toolbar and that part of the printed instructions include the hotkey to make it show up again if it's been hidden because sometimes that happens. Also, the hotkeys for zooming. It is very easy even for me to accidentally end up zoomed in and have to fix that.

I'd recommend installing Chrome or something up front, because IE seems to result in more malware and it is way harder to make the switch after they're used to another browser.
posted by Sequence at 7:12 PM on January 14, 2014

Set her up with LogMeIn or another remote login service so that you can help her from afar (if you're both on Macs it's as easy as share screen on iChat). This is so, so, so helpful when my dad has an issue, it is a lot easier to help him if I can see what he is talking about. Also teach her how to do a screen cap and email it.
posted by radioamy at 7:20 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 83 year old grandmother loves Facebook. She and her sisters seem to compete to see who can post the best pictures of their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, and judging from my notifications lately she loves looking at pictures, as Eyebrows McGee said above.
posted by MadamM at 7:27 PM on January 14, 2014

Best answer: Mousing Around should help her with using a mouse.

It really is the best, very self-guided and allows you to make simple progress. Talk with her about a good way to keep her websites (bookmarks, icons on desktops, bookmark bar in browser, what works for her). I sometimes use sites like Internet Buttons just to get people with a home page that they can do a few things. Other sites to get started: her local library, some good tutorials on YouTube (many suggestions in other AskMe threads), Open Library has some good genealogy books online-readable for free (disclosure: I volunteer there)

I'd suggest Firefox or Chrome as a browser with Ad-Block Plus on. This way she won't get confused or distracted by ads-disguised-as-content. Facebook if she's into it. Skype does basic screensharing and might be easier (and more useful for her) than LogMeIn but some way to help out remotely would be good.

Here is the most useful short thing to read about how to help someone use a computer. I'll be happy to send you a PDF of my book (about doing this sort of thing, mostly in libraries) if you want, drop me an email.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My 79 year old dad is on facebook, and has high school classmates he reconnected with. Look for people on a whim.
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:56 PM on January 14, 2014

Best answer: My dad is almost 10 years older than your mother. After showing (and bookmarking) websites for him, I set iGoogle as his home page (now After that, the most important thing I showed him was Google searches. Not kidding. He figured out how to take it from there -- he's (by himself) discovered and set up a Pandora account, bought things online, regularly peruses, watches TV shows on Hulu, reads the newspapers, and so on.

When you think about it, it makes sense, right?
posted by Houstonian at 7:59 PM on January 14, 2014

I meant to add, when I'm explaining things to my dad it helps when I use analogies. This might help with your mother, too. "Like a car engine", or "like a filing cabinet", or "like a telephone" (for example) helps make connections from what they already know to the new thing they are learning.
posted by Houstonian at 8:11 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Solitaire is an excellent suggestion. And once she's used to dragging cards around, and her mouse vocabulary reliably includes "click" and "right-click" and "double-click", show her window controls. Make sure she learns the names of the parts: title bar, resize handles, minimize and maximize and make-resizable buttons, task bar buttons. Make sure she can reposition and resize a window, and show her that she can have two or more windows open at once even though she probably won't immediately understand why that's useful to do, and introduce the idea of the front window having keyboard focus.

If she has the proper names for these things and can manipulate windows without needing explicit click-hold-move-mouse-no-keep-holding-try-again instructions, you will save endless hours of frustration in the hundreds of phone support sessions you've just signed on for.

Install a browser that supports ad blocking (Firefox or Chrome) and disable access to IE. Install Adblock Plus (for Firefox - for Chrome). This will probably come subscribed to EasyList; add subscriptions to EasyPrivacy and Fanboy's Annoyances, and turn off "Allow some non-intrusive advertising".
posted by flabdablet at 8:14 PM on January 14, 2014

I'd personally advise to use the latest versions of IE instead of Firefox or Chrome as IE sandboxes itself when viewing the web (ala protected mode). Chrome somewhat protects itself in a similar way, but Firefox doesn't at all, and it doesn't appear they'll look into it in the near future, which it's very important to consider using noscript when using Firefox. Your main concern when traversing the net should be the myriad of "drive-by downloads" that can occur when visiting the wrong site, or a compromised good site. These generally do not attack the browsers themselves, but 3rd party plugins that many browsers use (Flash, Reader, Quicktime, Java, etc). This is why it's important to make sure your browser can offer some buffered protection when those 3rd party add-ins are compromised.

Aside from malware, for ad-blocking in IE, you can use Tracking Protection Lists (or TPLs for short) which will cut down on 3rd party ads. You can also try Web of Trust for almost any browser which is a great community driven site advisor (warns you of the shady side of the internet)

For those 3rd party plugins, making sure they're kept up to date will be important, so I'd also recommend installing Secunia PSI to keep them automatically updated with security patches. You may also want to consider setting up two accounts on the box (one Administrator, and one Standard User) and have her automatically log into the Standard User account by default. CryptoPrevent is also a handy addition to any Windows PC to serve as a stopgap to prevent many types of malware (when Antivirus fails to detect zero days)

If you feel adventurous and want to make the box as secure and simple as possible...I recently set up a PC for a local church with Elementary OS (swapping Midori for Opera, and Geary for Thunderbird). It's a Linux distro, but probably one of the most polished and accessible distros to date (very MacOSX like). I call it my preferred "granny OS" and is one I'd use over MintOS for new users.

I guess long comment short...the internet is a scary place! Feel free to personal message me if you'd like any direct assistance or advice anytime.
posted by samsara at 7:35 AM on January 15, 2014

Gift her a MetaFilter account.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2014

Set her up a Facebook account and add family members. There is a page on there called Dusty Old Thing that posts all kind of pictures and info about antiques that she would like, add that too, and set it to show in her newsfeed. I'm sure there are pages on there that relate to her other interests too, and the nice thing is they will all show up in her feed without her having to go to tons of different sites.
posted by catatethebird at 9:53 AM on January 15, 2014

Best answer: Oh, and be sure to explain to her about phishing, and not giving away passwords, etc.
posted by catatethebird at 9:58 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are some really nice FREE classes from GCF introducing the Internet, including Internet safety.
posted by BeBoth at 8:30 AM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 5:58 PM on January 19, 2014

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