The trip to Mom and Dad’s to celebrate Thanksgiving comes with turkey, pumpkin pie and a chance to watch football on that fancy new flat-screen TV — after you program the universal remote control, that is.
Across Minnesota, college kids and young adults will likely spend part of the holidays installing updates on laptops and explaining how to download apps onto tablets. Plenty of parents and grandparents have mastered iPads and Androids; however, as digital devices become more plentiful and sophisticated, young adults are increasingly being forced into playing tech support.
“It can be anything,” said Marcus Wilson, 24, of Woodbury, who works in IT and fields questions from his parents at home. “They’ll just be like, ‘My computer isn’t running perfectly lately. Can you figure this out?’ ”
While it may seem natural to keep tech questions all in the family, doing so can create stress along existing generational fault lines. Tech-savvy children often are baffled by parents who need guidance through every click, plus it can be awkward to teach someone who has spent their lives teaching you.
For parents, it can be just as trying to become students.
“With the pace of technological changes, the older generation gets out of date much sooner than in the past,” said Bill Doherty, a professor from the University of Minnesota’s Family Social Science Department.
Those in their 50s or 60s, who are still in the prime of their careers, may have to ask for help, which can feel uncomfortable, he said.
“If you have been a good teacher and mentor for your children during their lives, they treat you really well now,” he said. “If you haven’t ... this is where it can be payback time.”
Stressing over tech
People who work in tech support know this scenario all too well.
“I get so many folks who say, ‘My kids said they’re not going to help me with my PC anymore,’ ” said Matt Hedgepeth, who works at FirstTech, an Apple-approved retailer and repair shop in Minneapolis.
Distance is another potential hurdle. “It’s so much easier if you can take them through” it in person, said Fred Evans, product manager at FirstTech.
For 76-year-old Earl Carlson, who owns multiple devices, tech support spans generations.
His daughter Kris Salava, 43, sometimes stops by his house after work to troubleshoot his computer problems and help with his iPad. Her daughter, Nicole, 13, more on top of the latest smartphone tricks, helps Grandpa with his iPhone. Still, getting everything taken care of can be difficult.
“There are times when he’ll call and I’ll say, ‘I just can’t do this right now,’ ” she said.
But mostly, Salava is happy to help. After all, it was Carlson who first introduced her to computers when they learned the DOS operating system together more than 20 years ago.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, Dad used to teach me how to do it. Now I’m helping him,’ ” she said.
Carlson said he lets his daughter know he appreciates the effort.
“Many times I have been ready to throw the computer out and buy a new one,” he said. “She’s come over and saved me.”
Justin Cowen, retail sales manager at FirstTech, said it’s understandable for parents to turn to their children for help. Calling official tech support can be intimidating or a waste of time if people get stuck on hold. Also, parents trust their kids.
“You know how your parents learn,” he said. “You grew up with them.”
But sometimes there just isn’t enough time.
Cowen, 29, helps his mom, Sherri Steffen, with tech questions almost weekly, but he knows there’s more she could learn with a little more help. So her kids are giving her a gift certificate for an hourlong lesson with an expert at FirstTech for Christmas — and she thinks it’s great.
“I talk to a lot of people my age who wish they had somebody who could take more time with them and sit down and help them,” said Steffen, 51.
Doherty said it’s most rewarding when children nurture their parents’ interest in technology by acknowledging their uncertainty and encouraging them to explore further.
After all, Mom and Dad have already done that for the kids.
“You’re helping them with their ability to problem-solve themselves,” he said. “Their anxiety goes down, and they call you less.”
Steffen has learned to try troubleshooting herself — often by looking for how-to videos on YouTube — before calling or texting for help. But about once a month, she and Cowen make a coffee date. They sit down with the gadget du jour and learn new tricks. Once, she even turned the tables, showing him how to move the on-screen iPad keyboard.
Those regular tech lessons, which could have been a source of frustration, have turned into mother-son bonding time.
“It gives you a reason to come to the table and learn something together,” Steffen said. “Maybe I should use that to my advantage and call him up more often.”