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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 15

October 2010



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.  

This month she looks at setting up Skype, which lets you talk to your grandchildren and at the same time see them on the screen. .

If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:


Setting up Skype to talk to Grandchildren

Last year in my Laterlife column (Sept 2009 - The Long-Distance Grandparent) I wrote about the wonders of Skype. This marvellous two-way video system, installed in your computer, lets you talk to your grandchildren and at the same time see them on the screen. And they can see you. It’s as though you were all in the same room, though you might be 3000 miles apart. Best of all, it’s free.

I was so taken with the experience of Nana Deborah, who lives in Spain and reads a nightly bedtime story to Daniel, her five-year-old grandson at home in North London, that I decided I must get Skype to talk to my grandchildren in South Africa . I could picture Molly, the 12-year-old, telling me about her latest swimming meet and David, the 11- year- old, about last Saturday’s rugby match. Molly could show me the book she is reading. David might be persuaded to play his guitar for me.

In the same column, I also wrote that SKYPE is not too difficult to set up. And that begins my saga of Skype. I said: “On the internet go to Click on the ‘Use Skype’ tab, scroll to free video calls to find out more.”

I mentioned to my son who occasionally stays with me that I would like to install Skype. He offered to do it but when it came time to test it we noted that he had set up the program for audio. He didn’t realize I wanted visual. For this, the website says you need a webcam to see the person on the other end of the line. So I decided to get one.

At first, I looked at Skype accessories on the internet. There were headsets, phones, webcams and extras, a confusing array. I thought it best to talk to a real person before ordering. At the PC World shop on my High Street, I was directed to an incredible display of webcams. “Which one will work with Skype?” I asked the technical assistant. She showed me one that she said was good because it has an in-built microphone. She also said it was simple to install, all I would need to do would be to download the disc and follow the instructions.

With misplaced confidence I downloaded the instructions. It took about four hours. A more experienced techie might have been a bit suspicious. It was a Microsoft programme and not only gave me access to Skype but reconfigured most of the other programmes installed on my computer, adding features I did not want and deleting some I did. Panicking, I decided not to register and the next day cancelled the entire programme.

Before I went any further, my son advised that it might be a good idea if I found out if I could actually talk to the family in South Africa. At least I could see if the audio worked. I got their contact information and after some discussion the best time to call them. You have to be at your computer to receive the calls. I made the call and it didn’t go through. Talking to them on my landline, it became clear that Skype had been deleted from the children’s computer where it had first been used. My son-in- law suggested I try the lap top and a new contact was set up Still no luck. The phone rang, and then the call was cut off.

Check your internet speed, Skype advised. For audio calls you need at least 60 kbs and for good quality video calls, 256 kbs. It says you need to close other applications that use the internet, especially those that might be playing music or video, and cancel file downloads.

Good. I checked I had the recommended speed. Some days passed before we could set up another convenient time. For this test my daughter installed the Skype on her computer. Miracles! I called, she answered, I could hear her and see her and the children. But they couldn’t hear me. Now to find a mike. I have one that I use with my tape recorder. I plug it into the computer. It works!

But still I need the webcam for them to see me. How important is that? I can see them and I can talk for free.

I’ve consulted the IT guru at the charity where I work. He tells me the Microsoft product is unnecessarily complicated. He recommends a Logitech Webcam C500. “It comes with a microphone and a setup CD which was pretty easy to use,” he said. Of course his take on “pretty easy to use” may be quite different from mine.

NOTE: I’ve since learned that most new laptops come with a built-in mike and webcam. I have a five year old desktop.




Previous articles in the series:


1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around
7. Who baby-sits?
8. Favouring one grandchild more than the others
9. Should Grandparents who provide child care receive financial assistance
10. A feast for mind and body for you and the grandchildren at half term
11. Jealous grandparents
12. When you agree to help with childcare
13. Parents would like grandparents to live closer
14. Grandparents and teen grandchildren
15. Saga of Skype



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