4 Ways to Help a Computer Newbie

Does not know how to use a computer.

Wow, I’m bossy lately.  Here’s another bossy post telling you what to do!

My older neighbor’s children got her a notebook after a pretty serious medical issue, so she could keep in touch by email.  They figured she would like to footle around on the Internet as well.

She has never used a computer before.  Ever.

The poor lady is too nice to tell her kids she DOES. NOT. WANT.  So she is losing her mind trying to use the thing.  Guess who gets to help?

Anyone with parents or grandparents in this pickle knows exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m no expert, but as a writer who also works in an office, I can get around minor issues with little trouble.  In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind.

#4—Never assume they know anything at all. 

Listen to the complaint; don’t assume you know what Grandpa is asking.  Have him show you what he was doing when a problem occurred.  He can likely do that instead of tell you since he doesn’t know what that little arrow-shaped thing is called yet.

Not everyone is a natural instructor.  Listening goes a long way, as does patience.   It’s difficult to teach someone skills that come easily to you.  Once you learn all the little things about operating a computer, they become intuitive.  For a person who doesn’t even know how to turn the machine on and off, explaining them is like speaking Swahili to an Eskimo.

#3—Remember that they are afraid.

Older people especially see a computer as an expensive, complicated machine.  They are terrified they will irreparably damage it.  Also, learning something new as an adult is scary enough when you’re 25; when you’re 75, it’s even more so.

Encourage Auntie Myrtle to explore the computer with you there.  Let her mash all the buttons she likes, play with the cursor, open and close programs, etc.  Tell her there’s little she can do to break it.  She won’t believe that, but tell her anyway.  Walk her through some tutorials so she can get a feel for them and can ask you for help if she needs to.

#2—Write it down.

Look online for computer tutorials.  I found a good one (link at the bottom).  The Dummies series of books is awesome too.  Check reviews before purchasing anything.  Also, check your local library or college for free computer classes for adults and seniors.

There are software tutorials on disc, but they can be expensive, and some have dozens of complaints against them (I’m talking to you, Video Professor).  Go over sites/books with your newbie and bookmark things they will probably refer to often.

If you can’t find a good tutorial, make it.  A well-written tutorial can be a huge help.  Newbies often feel stupid, but if you give them a way to help themselves, it empowers them.

#1—Keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It takes time to learn anything new, and computers, even with incredibly easy GUIs that a five-year-old can navigate, are no exception.  No one can get it all in one day.  Your newbie may be frustrated because everyone else seems to know all this.

Reassure your newbie that no one else learned it overnight either.  The only reason I know what I know is I’ve been messing with the thing since the mid-90s.  Many, many people started earlier than I did and they don’t even know everything.

Since the advent of user-friendly interfaces, much of the programming crap an older person may remember about early computers is already done by the time it lands on your desk.  It truly is plug-and-play, right out of the box.



If Mrs. Roubidoux next door says she’d like to get a laptop, take her to the store to try some out.  Park your butt right near her and fend off warranty upsells, optimization bullhockey and $450 cable scams.  It’s possible to get a machine without the crap (probably not at Best Buy, however). If you have to, you can order it online for her.

Once you get your newbie up and running, then you can get back to your writing.  Here are some links to help you.

How to Help Someone Use a Computer



How to Teach Someone to Use a Computer



This tutorial below looks awesome, but my newbie might not be ready for this yet.  She can’t navigate web pages very well.  Once she can, I plan to give her this link.


Free Computer Training at GCFLearnfree.org




8 thoughts on “4 Ways to Help a Computer Newbie

  1. Worked at Circuit City back in ’95 selling the “Performance Guarantee.” Christ, was that a waste of people’s money. We were recruited as sales, then helped build the interior up, then opened the store. They had us believing in that ridiculous extended warranty. Then, one day, I had a customer bring something in that needed maintenance under Circuit City’s extended warranty. The process to go through to send it off was easy enough. I assured the customer, “no big deal.” When it came back, it was scratched all to hell. That’s when I actually read both the warranty as printed on her receipt when she purchased it, along with the document they made her sign when they sent it off to Circuit City’s repair Warehouse. It literally stated that the item would be damaged in transit and that C.C. could not be held responsible. I felt like a tool for selling that worthless warranty in the first place. Now, whenever I need to buy something, I talked to no one until I’m sure of what I want, then go straight to the front register with the tag and tell them I need one of “these.” If they start talking about warranties, I say, “find out if you have it in stock first, and make sure, go ahead and bring it out, I need to see that you have it; I don’t want to waste my time.” Soon as the kid brings it out, I tell the cashier, “no warranty, ring it up without it, and I don’t need any help carrying it out.”
    “I” used to sell that useless “warranty.” and I’m telling out DON’T BUY IT NO MATTER WHAT THE F’ING TELL YOU !!

  2. I loved our Circuit City. I guess it was one of the good ones. Never got a push to buy the warranty. Maybe the people I dealt with didn’t like selling it either!

  3. Thanks for the shout out about GCFLearnFree.org. Once your neighbor gets more comfortable using the computer, we have lots of tutorials that she may find useful, like: Email Basics, Skype, Facebook, Internet Basics, etc (since you said her children wanted her to stay in touch). Let us know if there is anything we can do to help! – Jess

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