Teens Help Seniors Bridge Technology Gap

18 September, 2014

When most people imagine a classroom, they think of older people teaching younger ones. But when it comes to learning about high-technology devices, the opposite can often be true. That is what is happening through a program in the eastern American city of Columbia, Maryland. The 50 Plus Center offers free technology classes for adults ages 50 and older. The teachers are often teenagers and even younger children.

Myra Stafford is 73 years old. She signed up for the workshop to learn how to use her iPad.

"My daughter gave it to me. She's been long waiting for me to use it."

Ms. Stafford says she is learning quickly about the device. She adds that she enjoys learning from younger people.

"I am more confident today than I was before. Today I have more hands-on. Working with young people makes it wonderful because that's all they know and they didn't make me feel that I was old or dumb."

Eleven-year-old Zhion Perkins teaches Ms. Stafford. He says that patience is very important when working with older adults.

"You have to be really, really patient, you know, because some of them might not know as well as others, so you have to be really patient."

Meridy McCague is the director of the 50 Plus Center. She says the center offers many other kinds of workshops for older residents of Columbia. The activities include playing cards and physical exercise classes.

"It's everything from QiGong and Tai Chi to yoga to Latin jam dance. We have a lot of exercise programs, and then we also have a lot of programs where people just meet together to play cards or just to spend some time together, sewing circles, things like that."

Ms. McCague added the senior technology workshop last year. She acted after the center received several iPads from a local community organization. Since then, about 100 senior citizens have signed up for the workshop. Ms. McCague says the classes are necessary for seniors to connect with the world around them.

"As people are aging, their worlds get a little smaller. Some of them can no longer drive, some of them don't get out to make long trips to see their relatives. And it brings them back out into Facebook, into Skype and just to be able to communicate. They can do everything from ordering things from Amazon now, to ordering groceries or meals."

Kerry Hannon is a career and retirement expert. She says teaching senior citizens about technology can prove helpful for the economy.

"You have a huge growing population over 60 that's just expanding, and offers an incredible opportunity to buy online, to research products that they want to buy, maybe not online, but they research them online. About a third of the Internet users in general are over 50. As seniors get more excited about using the technology, they're going into the market place and buying it. So that's a boom for economy right there."

Madison Lam is a 17-year-old teacher for the technology workshop. She says she also learns a lot from helping seniors.

"I think I've learned a lot on how to connect with people and work with them because I'm usually a shy person so I'm not good at connecting with others besides my family and friends. So I've learned to be more outgoing."

Safire Windley is head of the Youth and Teen Center that operates the program. She says young people like Madison gain more than just social skills from teaching older residents.

"I find in this day and age, our younger people, they're trying to explore and find out how they do they add value to life, just trying to find their way. This is something where they're needed and their skill set is valued and it gives them purpose."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

This report was based on a story from VOA's Faiza Elmasry. Jonathan Evans wrote the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.