Helping Your Parents Choose a PC

By Pamela Portin

I recently helped my mom pick out a new PC, set it up, and customize it for her. Many of us have helped our parents through this process—particularly those of us in the technology industry, or those of us who have used computers for many years. If your parents are new to computing, or are picking out a PC for the first time, it can be a little overwhelming.

Here are a few ideas to consider when helping your parents select a PC.

Enjoy getting a PC

photo of couple looking at a laptop computer Your parents might be a little overwhelmed at first, so have patience, and help them understand what goes into making a decision to buy a computer. This is a great opportunity for you to teach your parents about a piece of your world. Get your mom and dad excited about your choice of PC and give them examples of how getting a computer can help them start using the Internet, communicating with you and their grandkids, and exploring the world. My mom got especially excited about getting to see pictures of her grandchildren more often and then being able to print them.

Sharing with your parents the joys of computing can help make PC-purchasing less overwhelming and more fun.

Go to an Electronics Store or Web Site with Your Parents

You might be inclined to just go out and buy a PC for a parent—hoping it will be easier for everyone. I recommend you make your parents feel part of the experience from the beginning. Invite your parents to go with you to view the hardware firsthand. Whether you buy the PC at a local retail store, or online, trying out the actual hardware will make your parents feel more comfortable about the purchase. Unlike those of us who shop online for a PC, our parents are probably more used to picking out big purchases at stores. For our parents, a PC may be like selecting a home appliance, so taking the time to go to an electronics store to try out different PCs may help your mom or dad feel more comfortable with the options and the final choice. If the PC is purchased online, have your parents make the purchase transaction online and accept delivery.

Deciding on a PC Laptop or Desktop

Choosing a laptop or a desktop for your parents is an important decision. Each has its own set of benefits. My mom wanted to use her computer in the den where she had a very comfortable chair. If your parents say they have the perfect room for the computer, and plan to use it at home, then a desktop might be the way to go. If they explain that they want to use their computer in the kitchen, in the bedroom, and when they go on vacation, they may want to consider a laptop.

Here are more benefits to consider:photo of ergonomic keyboard and mouse

Choosing the Right Features

Determining how your parents are going to use their computer will help them decide whether to get a basic PC or one with more memory, extra hard drive disc space, and other advanced features. My mom wanted to use her new PC to send email, surf the Internet, and print and save photos. Ask your parents specific questions about what they want to do with their PC to determine required features of the PC. The chart below shows some of the common computer tasks and what features are important to make them perform more efficiently and easily.

What do you want to do with your PC? Feature Considerations
Edit and store photos Memory (RAM) size and hard drive disc space
Edit and store videos Memory (RAM) size, hard drive disc space, and graphics card
Use the Internet for communication and lots of Internet exploring Processor speed and memory (RAM) size
Listen to music CDs and watch DVDs Optical drive with DVD reader/writer capability, quality speakers
Use wirelessly Wireless card
Play games online Memory (RAM) size, video card, processor speed, ports for game controllers

Responses to the questions above will help determine which PC features will fulfill their needs. For example, if your parents want to use their PC for sharing photos and making videos of their trips and grandchildren, make sure you encourage them to choose a PC that has enough memory (RAM) size for video streaming, a large enough hard drive to accommodate videos, a faster processor speed, and also CD/DVD read-write capabilities. On the other hand, if your parents are just interested in using email and exploring the Internet, a basic PC may be the right computer choice for them.

Unpacking the PC

Once the PC arrives, schedule time with your parents to enjoy the excitement of taking their new computer out of the box. Invite your parents to lift the plastic cover off the front of the computer and monitor and experience the shiny new machine. Together, unpack the cables, the keyboard, the mouse and other components, and take extra care to arrange them in the desk area. Assemble the PC and monitor, connect the cables, plug in the PC and the monitor, and connect them to the Internet.

Next, help your parents customize their PC to meet their needs.

Share the Excitement

Share with your parents the exciting variety of activities available to them through their new computer and the Internet. Let them know you will be there to help them along the way in their computing journey!


photo of Pam PortinPamela Portin is an aging computer user who loves using technology. When she is not texting, emailing, networking, mapping, Internet surfing, downloading music and movies and talking on her mobile phone, she is helping fellow aging computer users enjoy technology easily and safely. If you've recently bought and set-up a PC for your parents, let Pamela know what worked well for your parents, so we can share it with our readers.