The premise behind Mentor Up is simple: You know it. They need it.
AARP, the American Association of Retired People, knows a lot of older people are stumped by the dizzying advances in technology. At the same time, younger people are born into the technology maelstrom and adapt easily to constant change. So AARP started Mentor Up to link digital immigrants with digital natives.
The intergenerational program gives young people a chance to mentor older people. By sharing their technology expertise, youth help older people learn to use social media, connect with far-off friends and relatives, find or create jobs, and become comfortable with the digital world.
The reverse mentoring program works through existing organizations and institutions. For example, Carmel High School in California has a “Wired for Connections/Mentor Up” club. It was launched by 16-year-old Sean Butler, who offered 45-minute mentoring sessions for members of the Carmel Foundation. When classmate Carly Rudiger joined him, she expanded his idea into a club whose members earn community-service credits by mentoring.
Dennis Taylor’s piece for the Monterey Herald quotes Butler, whose comments sum up the key differences between older and younger generations when it comes to technology:
“I was probably 5 years old the first time I sat down at a computer. It didn’t take me long to start figuring things out because I wasn’t afraid to play. It’s easier to learn technology if you’re not afraid of it, and what holds a lot of older people back is that they’re afraid they’re going to mess something up if they play around and experiment.
“They don’t realize that most of the time you can just undo what you just did and get back to the place that you want to be.”
Before they start mentoring, young volunteers go through sensitivity training so they can understand some of the frustrations older people face, such as failing eyesight, loss of dexterity, or lack of basic familiarity with computers, tablets or smartphones. The results are a boost for both sides of the learning equation.
Not every Mentor Up program is technology focused. Some connect the generations around meal programs, become companions to elders or learn how to encourage basic fitness. The Mentor Up site offers lots of downloadable resources that can help groups get started.