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Tech Keeps Grandparents, Grandkids Connected

AARP survey finds phone calls still most popular

spinner image A grandparent on a video chat with a grandchild
Getty Images

When it comes to keeping in touch with grandkids, grandparents are branching out. Across the country, they are taking advantage of options like video chatting, text messaging and social media to stay connected to their grandchildren in more ways than ever before, according to AARP's new “Grandparents Today” survey.

Even though the survey found that phone calls are still the most popular form of family communication, for many, other technology offers ways to keep in touch when face-to-face visits aren't an option. The survey found that nearly one-third of the 2,654 respondents age 38 and older live 50 miles or more from their nearest grandchild, and more than half of grandparents have at least one grandkid who lives more than 200 miles way .

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That's the situation for Sheryl Stone, 68, of Harwich Port, Mass. She relies on video chatting to stay in touch with her three grandchildren, all of whom are 5 or younger. The closest lives in Tennessee, the other two in California.

Stone says video chatting is “the next best thing” to being with her grandkids, even though it requires planning to schedule calls and take the time differences into account. “It's not always perfect,” she says, “but it certainly beats talking on the phone, especially at those ages.”

spinner image infographic on how grandparents connect to their grandchildren. 46 percent use the telephone, 28 percent use texting, 24 percent use video chat, and 18 percent use facebook.
Christine Charboneau/AARP Research

According to the survey, 24 percent of grandparents say they use video chat to communicate at least every couple of weeks. That's slightly less than the number of those who regularly text (28 percent of those surveyed), but more than those who rely on Facebook (18 percent).

But with the number of choices out there, staying tech savvy can be a challenge. The survey showed that more grandparents like the idea of using video chatting, texting  and  social media to keep in touch than actually do so. In all, 39 percent of grandmas and 36 percent of grandpas say that keeping up with technology is difficult.

That's a sentiment Mary Carr-McNally, 74, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., can relate to. She regularly keeps in touch with her four adult grandchildren, but primarily by phone. “They'll text me something, and then I give them a buzz,” she says. “I'm not very good at texting, so I call them back, and then we chat.”

Carr-McNally's preference for the telephone over texting puts her in the majority. Overall, phone calls remain the most popular form of communication for grandparents, nearly half of whom say they talk with their grandchildren by phone at least once every couple of weeks.

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Still, 44 percent of respondents say they're  tech savvy , with “excellent” or “above average” skills. Janet Dubuc, 67, of Swansea, Mass., would put herself in this category. She owns a laptop, tablet  and  smartphone, and uses them to keep in touch with her four grandchildren, ages 5 to 15.

With the older two, she says she tends to text. With the two youngest, who  live  in California, she says she relies on video chatting to stay in touch between cross-country  trips,  when the family can be together in person.

"We can do a lot of things” on chats, she says. “If the kids want to see something, I walk around and show them.” She says she'll show off her garden when it's in bloom, or start video chatting when she and her husband are out on their boat. “If we didn't have the in-between FaceTime calls,” she says, “I don't think we would have the same relationship.”

And technology can have benefits that extend to the whole family. Sheryl Stone says that she video chats with her grandchildren and shares pictures and videos of them while visiting her mother, who is 91 and doesn't have a smartphone or computer. “She'll ask: ‘Do you have pictures for me?’ There's nothing my mom loves more,” she says.

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