Living with parents may not be easy, but it’s usually worthwhile for people who are strapped for cash. It’s shocking how much you can save by squatting in your old bedroom or basement. But there’s also another hidden plus: Since you’re right there, you never have to be their long distance tech support line.

As more devices and computers enter homes, the techno savvy users out there are increasingly being called up to act as emergency hotlines for their loved ones.

For the Lee family, it’s doubly tricky since my folks are both hard of hearing. This makes tech support phone calls a little extra excruciating. I do it anyway, of course, because … well, they’re my parents. They raised me and dealt with diapers, rebellious teen years and the inexplicable choice to attend one of the most expensive schools in the country. (Sorry, mom and dad!) Now apparently, it’s time for some payback.

My mother wants nothing to do with technology, but my dad is another story. I have deep respect for my father, a writer who got his first computer in his 70s. He managed to learn just enough basics — like word processing, emailing and web surfing — to research and write a book, and now he’s working on another.

But as much I admire him for what he’s accomplished, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that troubleshooting tech for him ranks up there with root canal. I dare anyone to spend a few minutes trying to walk him through opening up Explorer and locating a file.

“Okay, Dad, right click on the Start button.”
“I clicked. There’s a big list now. Which one do I pick?”
“No, right click on the Start button.”
“I did. You said, ‘Alright, click on the Start button,’ so that’s what I did.”
“No, Dad, I said…”
“There’s a window: Add New Hardware, Printers… Should I click on something else?”
“NO! Dad, you’re in the Control Panel. Don’t touch anything in there. Just close the window.”
“Close the computer?”
“No, just the window. Hit the little ‘x’ up at the…”


We had some version of this conversation every other week for years, no joke. I was going nuts, and it also drove my husband crazy. In fact, he often left the house because he just couldn’t take it. That was when I realized I had to find alternatives. My marriage depended on it.

Then on one family visit, I decided to download and install the TeamViewer application. I was wary about installing yet another program that could gum up his terminal, but this turned out to be my lifeline. This free program, which is often used for customer service or to keep project management teams connected, was perfect for remote controlling my dad’s PC. Even though there’s an expensive business class service available, the free personal use version was ideal for our needs.

Old Person and a computerNow when he calls me because a document or photo has mysteriously disappeared or a preference needs tweaking, I just tell him to turn on the computer, open the TeamViewer program and then — the best part — move away from the keyboard and mouse. He simply sits at his desk and watches in awe as I go in and solve his issues from my home, five states away. Inevitably, my in-laws started asking me about tech issues too, so I wound up installing it on their iMac as well.

There are both iPhone and iPad apps that let me quickly pop into their terminals, even on the fly. And though it’s not in the Market, there is also an Android version available for download too.

There are several remote access solutions available these days, and another that friends regularly recommend to me is LogMeIn. The iOS and Android apps are stable, secure and robust, but they cost $30 a pop. The Pro version of the desktop software costs $69.95 per year, but like TeamViewer, there’s a free version of it too. So if you can do without the mobile apps and only need basic controls, you can get it here.

It’s amazing how a simple thing like remote access has reduced the stress load on both the family and myself. It’s nice not feeling dread at the sight of their names on my caller ID anymore. Better yet, I’m helping them get even more out of their computer experience.

On my in-laws’ Mac, I downloaded and set up the FaceTime for Mac desktop application. All of their kids use iPhones, so this makes video chat very convenient and accessible between everyone.

As for my dad, I had put Skype on his PC and tried to teach him how to use it, but he’d never gotten the hang of it. Thanks to our remote set-up, though, that didn’t turn out to be a problem. Now, it just takes a moment to log into his computer, turn it on for him and ping my sister in France. This is like magic for my father, being able to video chat with his grandson on another continent.

But as great as all this is, unfortunately none of it works without Internet. So if the glitch I need to troubleshoot is a borked router or other network settings, he and I still have to do it the old-fashioned way. But luckily — for my dad’s sake, as well as for my sanity — this is rare.

Are you the family tech support expert? If you have any stories, advice or indispensable tools to share, weigh in below.

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