But if your mom and dad don't have a computer, they're left out. With some time and patience, though, you can get them online.Choosing a computer
A modestly priced PC will accomplish what your parents need. Don't skimp on RAM, though; aim for 512 megabytes. Get a roomy hard drive to store photos and videos of the grandchildren.
A Windows PC complete with monitor runs about $500. A Mac Mini starts at $600. But you'll need to add a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
Also think about the extras. A digital camera is a must. A photo printer is a nice add-on, as is a scanner for converting old photos.
Don't forget software
Computers come bundled with a variety of software. E-mail and music programs are standard. All computers will connect to the Internet and display photos and videos.
Still, you may want to make some upgrades. If you're worried about your budget, download free alternatives to pricey titles.
Photo software like Photoshop Elements is a must. But you can download Picasa, Google's free photo manager. For photo-editing, there's Irfanview, also free.
Your parents need a word processor and spreadsheet program to write letters and track finances. Many computers come with Microsoft Works; some have Microsoft Office. If the one you buy has neither, opt for OpenOffice.org. It has the same features as Microsoft Office and doesn't cost a dime.
Depending on their interests, other software titles may be in order.
You may find yourself responsible for teaching your parents to use the computer. You may also find yourself troubleshooting problems.
Enroll your parents in computer classes at a senior center. Or have your children teach them the ropes. It will make learning more fun.
Set up a remote assistance program for troubleshooting. Programs like GoToMyPC (one of my show's advertisers) allow you to connect remotely. You can see what's going on and fix problems. It's $20 monthly. LapLink Everywhere ($11 monthly) and LogMeIn ($13 monthly) are similar programs.
If your parents have trouble using a mouse or seeing, set up accessibility options. Both Windows and Mac OS X have tools for the visually impaired. You can also adjust settings for greater control over the keyboard and mouse
Don't forget privacy and security. Set up a firewall and antivirus software. Install a HOSTS file and two or more anti-spyware programs. Where possible, set them to update automatically.
Educate your parents about Internet dangers. Warn them about phishing, Internet scams and malicious Web sites.
To help protect against malicious downloads, set up a Limited user account. This will block the installation of software. They will need to switch to an administrator account to install software.
More on the Internet
You've warned your parents about the dangers of the Internet. Hopefully you told them not to post information about themselves or family members. But they'll still want to share photos with those they trust.
Take some time to create an account at a reputable photo-sharing site. Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly and Picasa Web Albums are three.
You can take it a step further and create a blog. They can easily post photos and stories. Many popular blogs include a password feature. You must know the password to view the blog.
I also have more on accessibility, blogs, security and tips for selecting digital cameras and photo printers on this page.