Once, your grandchildren came to your house seeking only cookies and milk, some piggyback rides, and maybe a train set to play with. Times have changed. Now your tween grandkids arrive, cellphones and portable game systems in hand, demanding not only those special cookies but also access to your wireless router and DVR. If your home technology is not up to speed, it may be time to upgrade your connections — and strengthen your connection to the kids. Following are four simple ways to upgrade. Just remember: No texting at the dinner table.
1. An iPod Dock
Encourage kids who are permanently connected to their iPod music players to drop their headphones and listen to their favorite music out loud while they do homework or play board games with you by purchasing a docking station. Prices range from about $40 for an iPod-compatible alarm clock with small speakers to $400 for the stellar sound quality of the Bose Sound Dock. (Visit apple.com to find guides to a variety of available devices.) Yes, you may hear some unusual tunes but you'll also get some insight into the sounds that make up the kids' daily lives. Let them know which songs you can tolerate and they might program a special playlist to play whenever they visit.
2. A Wireless Router
For about $50, you can purchase a wireless router that allows anyone who comes into your house to access the internet easily without being tied to your computer. Connect it to your computer, activate it — why not let the kids do it to see their technical skills in action? — and you'll be able to share your connection with their laptops and handheld devices.
3. Cable and High-Speed Internet Package
For about $100 a month (charges vary from region to region), you can get a package that includes digital cable service (typically including a digital video recorder system to tape and store your favorite shows — and the kids'), plus a high-speed internet connection. In some areas, you can add unlimited local and long distance phone service. This package gives you a faster connection for your computer (and any computers accessing your new wireless router), more channels to watch with the grandkids, and, if you include phone service, some potentially serious savings on your monthly talking bills.
4. The Nintendo Wii or XBox Kinect
Unlike other arcade-style game systems you connect to the back of your TV, Nintendo's groundbreaking Wii system, now priced at about $250, encourages players to get off the couch and move along with its games. Thanks to ultrasensitive controllers, when you play the Wii, you physically interact with the system, using your whole body to swing a virtual tennis racket or roll a virtual bowling ball. It's also much easier to learn than most video games, making it fun and habit-forming for grandparents and kids alike. Add the Wii Fit package and turn the game system into a virtual gym with an interactive trainer so you can get in shape to chase the kids around the backyard. The XBox Kinect from Microsoft uses technology that goes one stpe further, eliminating controllers altogether by relying on advanced sensors that track a player's movements and translate them into game play.
Before making any technical upgrades around the house, consult the kids' parents to see if you're choosing products that are compatible with the kids' own laptops, music players, or game systems. Those conversations alone could help open a window onto their wired world.
But even after you've upgraded, don't let the kids shut you out while they sit in the corner gaming and texting. Set house rules for screen time, don't let them visit any websites they won't let you see, and encourage them to share what they're doing — letting them know you're interested is a big part of maintaining your own connection. After all, wires or no, nothing is more interactive than an engaged grandparent.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.