Keeping up with the grandkids

Keeping up with the grandkids

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"Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being." - Margaret Mead, Anthropologist.

Australia’s well quoted ‘tyranny of distance’ extends beyond our coast line. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Emigration 2010-11 report approximately 166,000 Australian citizens (or 0.7% of our total population) emigrated via a ‘long-term or permanent departure’ over the last year. Internal migration in Australia is also constantly shifting. A trek to visit loved ones living in Adelaide from home in North Queensland requires more than a weekend away! For those of us holding the fort back in Australia or across states, it means finding ways of communicating effectively so that we can maintain and continue to enhance bonds with our loved ones.

Nothing quite compares to being able to regularly spend face to face time with grandchildren. This is just not a reality for many Australian grandparents. So how can you keep up with your grandchildren and play a familiar role in their lives if distance is getting in your way?

Technology has conquered distance for many decades now but never as rapidly as the last decade. The great news is, as the demand for communication across the globe by both audio and visual means becomes part of our social fabric, it’s becoming increasingly accessible and easier to use.

The basics are all you need to be well on your way to fulfilling catch ups

To get started, all you need is the basics. A computer with a current operating system, microphone, speakers, webcam (all of which are generally  built in), broadband connection, relevant software and an email address will have you well on your way to great conversations.

Impress your children and your grandchildren with your technical savvy while staying connected. Beyond email, the telephone and snail mail, the following communication technologies all enable you to enjoy rich interactions with your grandchildren, almost as good as being there. Better still most of these options are available for free.

1.  Voice and/or video chat applications

What is VoIP?

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a versatile software application for making telephone or videoconference calls live over the internet. Most VoIP services also enable video conferencing and instant messaging. Once you have a broadband connection, VoIP is often a very economical way to make telephone calls. In fact, most services offer free calls if the person you are calling is connected to the same VoIP service. Many VoIP applications also let you connect more than one other person – geographically scattered families can enjoy catching up on a video chat.

Tell me more about video chat or VoIP as a communication option

One of the most well known applications in this space is Skype. Skype enables instant messaging (more about that later), video or voice calls. Other popular VoIP software services include AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! 7 Messenger and Google Talk. For Mac users, iChat is an instant messaging, text and video chat application that works with AIM.

2.  Social media

What is social media?

Social media is internet based spaces that allow groups of people to interact with one another, sharing information about their personal and professional interests, photos, videos and opinions on topics of interest. It is important to carefully manage your security settings on social media. Social media platforms enable you to limit the amount of information shared and who is able to access information and images that you publish online. The responsibility for protecting your privacy is yours and it is advisable to regularly check your security settings.

3.  Tell me more about social media as a communication option

Blogs are a popular way for families to communicate when they are scattered across the globe. A blog is a type of website that lets you update  and share content that you manage yourself, such as stories, opinions, photos, video and links to other content of interest with a group of people that you define. The blog platform allows visitors to comment on your content if you set it up that way. You can make a blog available to the public, or restrict it to just being accessible by family and friends. Wordpress and Tumblr offer free blog sites, or you can pay to have a super slick bells and whistles blog.

YouTube and MySpace are examples of a popular user generated video sharing sites. By simply setting up a free account online, you can upload your own videos to share with family and friends. You control the security settings and who can view your video content. You may want to record a Christmas greeting, or read your grandchild one of their favourite books. Or you may want to share some video footage of recent renovations, a holiday you’ve enjoyed or a snapshot of life in your new retirement village villa!

Google+ and Facebook are popular examples of social media interface sites hosted on the internet. By registering to set up a free account,  you can then invite friends and family to join your ‘circle’ or  ‘friends’ so that you can all share what’s on your mind, photos, videos, links to information of interest. You can group your family, friends and acquaintances so that what you share with family, may be different to what you share with other people – just in the way that you would usually manage your social life and connections. You can also join groups that share your interests, be it genealogy, retirement, antiques, films and book reviews just to name a few. You can then share these interests with your friends or family. Video chat is also increasingly becoming an additional service provided by social media sites. Social media sites are a great way of keeping your family and friends updated on your travels, new hobbies or viewing recent photos of your grandchildren!

3.     Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is having a real-time chat with someone by typing text using your computer or mobile device, sending it over the internet or telephone network and receiving typed messages back from the person or group of people you’re chatting with. As with all these communication technologies, increasingly instant messaging software also offers video chat.

MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Talk, Twitter (which is a ‘microblogging’, social network site), Trillian and Meebo are just a handful of the many real-time instant messaging options available.

Grandchildren in secondary school and beyond will love the ability to jump on and say a quick hello via instant messaging while they attend to their social and study demands.

4.     File sharing

What is a web based file hosting service?

A web based file hosting service or ‘cloud storage’ is like a giant online storage facility that gives you access to your very own filing cabinet drawers to upload, sort, store and share photos, videos, presentations, scanned documents and music. Some technologies even enable you to work with a person or group of people online to discuss or edit a document such as a Powerpoint presentation. Cloud storage is a great way to exchange photos and videos to stay up to date as your grandchildren grow.

Tell me more about file sharing as a communication option?

Flickr, Picasa, Google Docs and Dropbox are just some popular examples of free file sharing services. Some offer video chat as well as real-time sharing of documents.

If you love the idea of being able to read stories to your grandchildren, in a way that they can even see the pages of the book as your read, Readeo lets you and your grandchildren flip through the pages of a virtual book while seeing and talking to one another on-screen—almost like being in the same room. Readeo is just one of many examples of interactive, real-time file sharing.

You’re now just 4 simple steps away from connecting with your grandchildren

With most of the technologies, software and applications covered in this article, the process to kick off richer connections with your grandchildren from afar is very similar. Once you’ve taken some time to consider the options above, here are 4 steps to help you on your way:

  1. Talk to your family and agree which technology is going to work for all of you.
  2. Set up an account. This usually involves going to the website, registering your details as a new user, providing an active email address and being sent email instructions to get you started.
  3. Once you’ve registered, test the application first with some peers – then you’re ready to impress your family with your technical savvy. In the case of a blog, it may take a little time to set it up and add some photos and stories.
  4. Agree on a time to make the first connection with your family.

And most importantly, just enjoy being able to keep up with your grandchildren!

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