Suzanne Sanden’s flip phone suited her just fine for 20-odd years, but when she got a new job, she had to get a smartphone with texting programs. She knows how to text, but the phone was throwing up other obstacles. That’s when she and husband Harold sought out Teen Tech Help.
The program pairs teenagers and young adults with senior citizens who need help using new technology. It’s held regularly at the Yucca Valley Senior Center. At the latest session April 18, 10 older people got help from four women in their teens and early 20s.
Megan Stueckle, the town’s recreation coordinator, helped Sanden change her ring tone, shut off some annoying push notifications and advised her to power the phone down at night.
The Sandens were pleased with the service. ““It’s a nice little benefit the town should offer,” Harold said.
Stueckle, who’s a full-time employee, not a teen volunteer, pitches in regularly for Teen Tech Help. She said she and her fellow tutors are most often asked for help with pictures — taking, saving, sending and posting them.
“A lot of the people we get here are constantly traveling, so it’s really important to them to be able to take pictures and share them with their families,” Stueckle said.
“What’s cool is everyone I’ve helped has said they want to keep up with the next generation of technology, so that’s really rewarding.”
Some people need a hand with the basics.
“We aren’t trying to get fancy, we’re just trying to make calls and answer the phone,” said Grace Elrod.
Elrod said she’s had her smartphone for six months but couldn’t answer it; Megan’s younger sister, Grace Stueckle, showed her how, and then showed her friend Lorn Greg Lee how to use his phone, too.
“She was really good teaching us,” Lee said.
Others are conversant with the basics and want help with more advanced skills. Kelvin Easterling, who lives in the Dumosa Senior Village apartments next to the senior center, needed assistance updating the apps on his Android.
“We have to keep updating because everything keeps changing,” Easterling said.
He’s used Teen Tech Help before for help with calendars and email and was back for more on April 18. “The kids are real knowledgeable,” he said. “They’re real helpful.”
Easterling knows what it’s like to teach others; he is a tutor for the Morongo Basin Coalition for Adult Literacy. He sees parallels in the ways to help people struggling with illiteracy and older people struggling to understand new technology.
Both have to overcome stereotypes; in this case, it’s the idea that older people can’t grasp new technology. “That’s so bad, because the ones who don’t know are afraid to learn,” Easterling said. “It’s the same with learning to read. For all their lives, someone has been telling them, ‘You can’t do this,’ ‘You can’t do that,’ and that’s the only thing preventing them from learning.”
The first thing you learn in the literacy program is illiteracy has nothing to do with intelligence. He wants seniors to accept the same thing about their learning gap with new technology.
As Easterling said, everything does keep changing in the world of technology. Many seniors are adapting, but people living in rural and low-income areas lag behind. A Pew Research Center report in 2017 found that seniors who are younger, more affluent and more highly educated own and use technologies at rates similar to adults under the age of 65.
“Many seniors who are older, less affluent or with lower levels of educational attainment continue to have a distant relationship with digital technology,” the authors reported.
More than 90 percent of seniors whose annual household income was $75,000 or more said they go online, but fewer than half of seniors with yearly incomes less than $30,000 could say the same.
Easterling often sees people struggling in the computer room at the senior apartments. He wishes they’d make “that first step” toward learning and head next door for Teen Tech Help.
Easterling is one of the program’s friendliest evangelizers.
“I got what I needed today and I’ll be back later for more,” he said with a laugh after his session with Megan Stueckle. “I can never get enough punishment when it comes to tech.”