Breaking the Cycle of Family Tech Support

Does your family always call you – a non-techie – for tech support? Do you get constant requests for a “quick second” of your time to solve PC-related issues or even something as simple as getting the channel notification to disappear from the TV? Do your parents keep a growing list of IT questions jotted down on a notepad they toss your way the minute you walk in the front door when you’re home for a visit?


Aside from many of us not being qualified to provide high-level tech support, it can be extremely hard to maintain a solid line between technology frustration and personal frustration when helping family members. You know the drill – the situation can be as simple as calling up your tech-savvy uncle every time you hit a snag with your laptop. Only this time, he can’t quite solve the problem, and you’ve lost time – while your frustration has grown – waiting for him to take a look. That frustration is shared when your uncle can’t solve the problem for you, and he starts to feel responsible for a technology problem that has nothing to do with him.


Who hasn’t been there on at least one occasion with the roles possibly reversed? Don’t get caught up in the never-ending family tech support cycle – family dynamics are sensitive enough without adding the stresses of serving as your family’s “guru” for all things tech:


Future problems become your fault, too. Anything that happens to the device after you touch it will be the result of whatever you did to it. No matter what the new tech issue is – whether it’s a new computer virus or an operating system upgrade – all the owner knows is that it didn’t happen until after you worked on the device. Therefore, you have to fix it again.


‘Round the clock availability. Family members feel they can call you at all hours of the day or night, and you’ll drop whatever you’re doing to help solve their tech issue, whether that’s drive to their house to fix their computer immediately (for the third time that month) or spend 30 minutes on the phone with them to troubleshoot an issue with their smart TV.


Sometimes, things go wrong. There are times when you get in a little over your head with issues that aren’t very easy to solve, and your do-it-yourself fixes can do more harm than good. That can go further awry with family members who take the “if you break it, you buy it” mentality to heart. You could end up with more than a broken device – you could have a broken relationship!


Free tech support for life. Fixing someone’s computer or other tech device for free and doing a good job can set expectations that you’re available for the rest of your life to fix problems! The next time that a family member needs help, they’ll remember what a great job you did, and you’ll be called upon to assist with lots of other tasks. You might even be recommended to other family members and friends!


If you’ve experienced something like this, don’t despair! You can break out of this cycle of endless tech support through teaching, practice and tough love. With a fair amount of each, weaning your family off of your assistance should be relatively painless.


Don’t simply do—teach. Every time a family member asks you for help, offer that help on one condition: they learn how to fix the problem themselves. This can be frustrating, especially for non-technical family members, and it may be difficult, but with a little tough love, patience and encouragement, you can be successful. Remember to explain things slowly and simply until your family member remembers, as well as do everything while you watch to ensure they’re doing it right.


Have them practice the basics. When you’re face-to-face with your family and can offer help, set aside some time to practice basic skills. In as little as 15-30 minutes per session, you can review skills that more advanced technology users – from computers to smart TVs to smartphones – should know. These can include copy and paste, sending a photo in an email, software updates and online social networking privacy settings, among many, many others. Practice with them and answer any questions they have during the process. Have them repeat the actions you demonstrate several times so they get used to them and ensure they’ll remember them.


Just say “no.” Like Nancy Reagan taught us in the late 1980s, you need to practice saying “no.”  Keep in mind that asking for your advice on which antivirus software to use is very different from asking you to come over and troubleshoot a dead system. One requires a quick answer and follow-up explanation, while the other could turn into hours of troubleshooting.


Call tech support. This might be the best answer yet. Having a clear line between tech issues and your personal life can be a huge blessing. There are some innovative, yet affordable, on-demand tech support options available that don’t require that you be related to the technician – nor the customer! These services are available 24/7, can come to your relatives at their convenience and don’t feed into any behind-the-scenes family frustrations, a win-win for everyone involved.



Does one of your family members have a tech device that they continually call you to service? Want to outsource that to a trusted on-demand tech advisor? Give Online Owls a call to take care of your family and get everything up and running. If it connects to the Internet, we service it!

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