12 tips for fixing your family's tech problems over the holidays

Become a troubleshooting guru.

Seeing family over Christmas means exchanging news and presents, reminiscing about old times, enjoying some food and drink - and of course, fixing all the tech problems your relatives have had over the last few months (maybe all the way back to last Christmas).

Having more than a passing interest in tech and knowing the difference between Android and iOS usually makes you the computer and phone repair guru for the family, so take a deep breath and possibly another sherry and follow our tips for getting everything fixed.

1. Keep the updates coming

One of the simplest and most effective fixes you can apply to the devices being pushed your way by your relatives is to check for OS updates to Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS - these may well clear up some of the bugs and will definitely make sure the various phones and laptops you've been pointed towards have the most recent security patches applied.

2. Check for security holes

Talking of security, your family members probably don't take tech security quite as seriously as you do. Check for dodgy browser extensions, background processes, or phone apps that really shouldn't be there, and make sure some effective antivirus protection is set up and running on any Windows computer (the built-in Windows Defender will do fine).

3. Devices need updating too

Alongside those software updates we just mentioned, check for updates for smart devices and especially the router at whatever house you're troubleshooting at (you can find router firmware updates on the manufacturer's website). Again, this ensures that the latest security patches have been applied, and will probably fix a few bugs along the way too.

4. Don't do all the work

You don't want to be back at your parents' house any earlier than you absolutely need to be, so maybe try and educate the people you're fixing computers and phones for while you fix the issues they're having - get them to work through the process of applying updates or uninstalling dodgy browser extensions, so they know how to do it next time (hopefully).

5. Keep it simple

One of the best ways you can give your relatives a helping hand with their tech is to simplify it - that means getting rid of redundant mobile apps, desktop programs, browser add-ons, and files that are just taking up room. The holidays are as good a time as any to run a spring clean on your devices, so talk your family members through the process.

6. Check online for manuals

No doubt your relatives have long since discarded the manual for their smart TV or smart kettle or whatever it is you're trying to get working properly. Don't panic if you're not quite up to speed with the device in question, because it's likely that you can download a digital copy of the manual anyway. Have a root around on the manufacturer's website to check.

7. Be specific in your web searches

Every designated family tech expert knows that solving many problems isn't a magic process - it's just a case of searching the web and reading. Be as specific as you can in your web searches, mentioning device names, specific programs and error codes where possible, and you should get better results. Here's a list of operators to use on Google.

8. Give the gift of backups

If your family is anything like ours, they probably don't give much thought to backing up, so you can bless them this Christmas by showing them how to back up their most important files and getting it set up for them. For example, you might want to use a cloud syncing service such as Dropbox, or you could treat them to a new external hard drive.

9. Have a talk about passwords

We've mentioned security already, but it's worth checking on the password protocols that your relatives are putting into practice. Make sure they're not reusing the same passwords over and over again, that they've set up two-factor authentication on their main apps, and perhaps introduce them to a password manager service like Dashlane or Keeper as well.

10. Get some remote assistance set up

While you're sat in front of a family member's computer trying to wrestle with some stubborn malware, you might want to set up some kind of remote assistance you can use if problems crop up in the future - something like TeamViewer or Chrome Remote Desktop, which are both free to use. It might save you a long round trip or a phone call in the future.

11. Explain the risks

As well as fixing issues that have cropped up with your relatives' phones, laptops and other devices, it's a good idea to talk them through some of the dangers to look out for - phishing emails, telephone support scams, browser add-ons that appear from nowhere, and so on. It should mean you've got fewer tech problems to sort out in the future.

12. Backup and reset

If the worst comes to the worst, you can always reset an Android or iOS device back to its factory settings - just make sure everything is backed up first (instructions are online here and here). If there are still bugs after a full reset, it's likely a hardware problem that's to blame, so it might be time for a professional repair or an upgrade to a brand new handset.