08 January 2011


Curious Girl has recently learned that a slightly younger friend of her has her own e-mail account. As she learned this via borrowing my e-mail account to send a message to this (distant) friend, she naturally started asking for her own e-mail account.  Politica and I agreed to investigate, but discovered that gmail  won't set up an account for anyone under 13.  So I'm pondering whether to set up an account named Curious.Girl there with my b-date.  Given the privacy issues on Facebook, I can't see myself being persuaded to avoid the age restrictions there.  But on e-mail?  Not sure.  Of course, this little hangup has given CG more time to discuss this matter with her friends at school, and she's coming home saying things like, "Oh, one of my friends says we should get yahoo.com on our computer because it works much better than gmail."  Looks like at least the claim of having e-mail accounts is emerging in Grade 2.

I've been trying to remember keywords from some of Geeky Mom's posts on her kids and screen time.  As I recall, she's been playing games with her kids since they were young, and advocates for children's privacy online--as well as parental conversations!  Politica and I have set up some parental controls on Safari for the computer that sits in our living room--setting up a bunch of different game sites on the toolbar for CG to access as she wishes--but as CG doesn't actually want to spend a ton of time online, we've never needed to set rules about screen time or access.  (The first weekend she had a Webkinz, she probably played 4 hrs a day, but after that....not so much.)

So, the e-mail.  One of my friends says that she set up her kids' first e-mail accounts so that all incoming mail forwards to her account--she talked about that up front with the kids, so it's "not creepy," and it lets her say to her daughter, "you know, I didn't really like the tone of that e-mail from so-and-so" when some insults go flying around.  I've seen sites advocating kids' email services, like  Zoobuh, and I've seen sites recommending that parents check their kids' emails.

I don't want to teach CG that the internet is a dangerous place--well, at least, I don't want to teach her that it's ONLY a dangerous place.  I tell her, for example, that if she wants to go looking for videos on youtube, she has to do with with one of us sitting with her, because it's very easy for the "related videos" sidebar on youtube to feature things that are not-so-related and not-very-appropriate for her.  I haven't taught her not to talk to strangers so much as not to *go with* strangers.

Ah, lots of rambling...hard to compose good sentences here when I don't really have a well-thought-out philosophy of my own to share here.  But I'm curious about how folks with older kids have navigated their kids moving online. What are the perils and pitfalls?

I'm leaning towards letting CG have an e-mail account, but telling her that e-mail is for communicating with people far away (she asked whether she could e-mail her teacher, and I said no, that she should talk with her teacher and if there was something she couldn't talk about, we'd help her write a note).  I'm leaning more toward a learn-by-doing, in other words, than a learn-in-the-protected-kids-email world.

But what would Geeky Mom do? Or what do you do?


Susan O said...

What my sister did (and what I think I will do) is set up accounts for her kids using one of the free services--I can't remember which one--but she didn't give the kids the password until they were 10. That way, in order to email she had to log them in--so she knew they were online. She took a look at the inbox and made sure it was all people she was okay with--family mostly--but didn't read the actual emails. They knew she could read them if she thought there was a problem, but she didn't. She promised she would tell them if she had read. I kind of like this approach. You know when your kid is emailing. If it ends up taking a lot of time, well, then I'd be asking some questions about who she was emailing and why, but otherwise, it's sort of semi-controlled.

Incidentally, but both got facebook accounts at 11, but weren't allowed to friend anyone other than family until they were 13....again, she was able to see how they handled it before giving free(er) reign. (until you're 18, you have to have your parents as friends in their house, but obviously she can't control messaging or all the other functions.

Sorry, too lazy to log into my own blog, so google ID it is!

elswhere said...

I actually did help my kid set up a gmail account a few months ago, with her own password (I knew the passwd originally, but don't remember it now). She is 10, not 8, though, and she's demonstrated understanding and good judgment about Internet and social-networking privacy and safety in the past. (For example, one friend told her about a web games site that she wanted to join. The site required parental permission if you were under 13. The friend told her to just put in an older birthdate, but she made a point of putting in her actual age and asking me to sign in my info as parent. She's also lectured us multiple times about how unsafe it is for underage kids to have facebook accounts-- someone came to her school and did a presentation about this with the kids.)

I've had mixed feelings about giving her this kind of online privacy and autonomy, but it's actually been helpful to be able to forward her emails from, say, her Irish dance teacher about upcoming workshops, and ask if she's interested in going. And my mom is thrilled to be able to have an independent correspondence with her (we're not always so good about passing on messages.) We've also given her access to view, but not edit, our shared Google calendar, which has been a big help when planning logistics in our complicated multi-scheduled family.

I wouldn't have done it before this year, though. And I wouldn't have done it if she hadn't shown the aforementioned good judgment. She does show a tendency to games/Internet addiction, but I'm hoping that the email address might actually diffuse that a little.

I'm thinking now that I should ask her to share her password, and that we should lay out ground rules about when and why we'd use it. She's very, very intense about her privacy, though, and about being trusted, so I'm not sure how to start that conversation.

elswhere said...

Hey, I left a long comment but now it's gone! Short answer: We just signed MG up for a gmail account a couple months ago and so far so good, but she's 10 & has demonstrated good understanding of online safety/privacy issues.

susan said...

Elswhere, both your long and short comment showed up. Google/blogger is being weird tonight.

Someone else mailed me with her approach (blogger wasn't letting her comment, for some reason): she has set up a dummy gmail account (kid+mama@gmail) and has a filter set up to send mail to flag mail to that address with a label on the side. Easy for her to read mail not from family and mark it unread. I think this is a 3rd grade kid.

Interesting to figure out these privacy lines. When cg couldn't yet read, we read all her correspondence to her. These days, when she gets mail, I tend to read it (or she wants to read it to me), after she's looked at it. That will change, too as she gets more independent in her reading. How much do I want to insert myself into here correspondence?

Suze said...

I started O's Gmail account about a year ago when he was 11 (didn't notice the 13 year age limit!) I've set it up so that all incoming and outgoing emails are forwarded to my Gmail. I didn't specifically discuss that with him, mainly as he's pretty uninterested in emailing anyone. I have to remind him to check it, which he does only every two months or so. I suppose by the time he does want to hide anything from me, he'll either start his own account or be able to remove my controls. So for us, email (and so far FB) are fairly irrelevant issues in terms of computer use - playing games is what boys are into, and we've found it pretty easy to have time restrictions on that ... so far.

S. said...

The age limit on gmail is definitely new--I was speculating with Phantom that it might be in response to the Buzz debacle? Since Z. isn't reading yet, this is all theoretical, but I did create a gmail account for her awhile back when she was tiny and interested in what I was doing in the computer all the time. So I set up an account for her and let her dictate email to me to send to family members (she was about 3). I haven't checked that account in years, so it may be spammed up a bit, but I'm pretty certain that there was no birthdate inquiry--I would have remembered if I'd had to decide whether to use her birthday or mine.

I'm interested to hear what other people are doing--the forwarding option is interesting--because I do think I'm going to have to answer this question myself next year or the year after.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Confessing to being the parent of the young friend in question! I got both kids' email addresses several years ago. I have BB's password, and she does not have access to it. LG is (as of this year) allowed to set his own password, but I have to know what it is. Both kids can recognize marketing emails, and both kids have been taught to get me or my husband if they receive an email from anyone they don't know. They also know about the possibility of hacked accounts -- I recently had to warn them against opening anything that might arrive from one of their uncles, whose account was recently hacked. I also have their accounts set such that any email that arrives with an attachment gets flagged with a big label that says, "ASK MAMA BEFORE YOU CLICK ON THIS."

LG rarely uses his account, and has already said that he isn't interested in signing up for FB, because of the privacy issues. (I suspect he'll change his mind about that eventually.) BB, as you know, *loves* writing email -- she writes me, MB, her grandparents and cousins, and family friends. I don't read her emails to other people unless she asks me to, but I do log into her account once a week or so, just to check that it's being used appropriately. LG has been so responsible and cautious with his that I only log on when Gmail adds new features that require me to tweak his privacy settings.

Anonymous said...

I actually set up an account for S a year ago, too. I did it just to keep her "stuff" (frequent flier accounts, medical stuff, citizenship stuff,etc.) archived for her--I sometimes let her dictate emails from it, too. But I don't intend to let her have access to this one once she is of age to write her own emails--I'm afraid she would delete stuff that I'm deliberately saving for her there.

All this is to say---I have no memory of having an age restriction.

jo(e) said...

I feel like an irresponsible parent because I don't recall giving this issue any thought at all. My kids all got email accounts as soon as they were old enough to set them up themselves -- and I didn't put any restrictions on them or supervise them in any way.

I just now asked my youngest son how old he was when he got his first email account. He stopped to think for a minute and said, "First grade maybe? I think I was at least in school."(I'm guessing his older siblings helped set up his account? I have no memory of it.) I think my other kids were older than that when they started emailing, but of course, technology has progressed since then.

Anyhow, we've never had any problems with email. My kids have always been more sophisticated than I am with technology.

I do remember (and this is a tangent) that when my daughter was in seventh grade, she and her friends were very much into instant messenger. (At the time, it was a brand new technology to me.) One night, one of her friends came online saying that his mother had just dropped to the floor while vacuuming. (She'd had a heart attack, we found out later.) He was on the phone with 911 but they told him not to hang up and so he couldn't call his father, who was still at work. So one of his friends called his father, another sent his own mother over to the house, etc. I can remember my daughter, very upset, reading me the messages and asking me if there was anything we could do. The kid's mother died instantly, so there wasn't anything anyone could do, but it was difficult to watch the drama unfolding on the internet, with these seventh graders all trying their best to comfort their friend and send help in whatever way they could. Most of the kids had parents at home -- it was in the evening -- to help them process what was going on, but some did not. I can remember thinking that kids nowadays are so connected, the information is so immediate, that we can't protect them from what happens in the world. Not sure if that's good or bad; it's just different than how things were when I was growing up.

Laura said...

I'm not sure I can give a better response than others have. Here's what I'll say. Geeky Girl has had an email account for a couple of years, starting maybe in 4th grade. She rarely uses it, though her use is increasing as she gets older. She started using the calendar feature this year. Geeky Boy has had an email account since 4th grade as well.

Each kid responds to technology differently and has different issues. Monitoring, that is, checking in with your kids regularly about their activity is important. For younger kids, that might mean both talking to them about it and also having their passwords so you can check in. For older kids (maybe 14 and up), looking over their shoulder frequently, talking about your rules, about what their friends are doing, etc., and of course, friending them in their social networks. Insist on it.

The biggest issues I've seen--both as a parent and as an educator of preteens and teens--have to do with time (getting sucked into gaming, facebook, etc.) and inappropriate behavior like bullying. I constantly encourage my kids to be as "nice" online as they are off. Offline behavioral rules apply online as well. And I ask them about interactions they're having.

I encourage the same behavior in the kids I teach, and I actually have a discussion with them beginning in 5th grade about being safe online and behaving well. Cyberbullying--extending the mean girl atmosphere online--is the number one issue for me. It's surpassing inappropriate photos, etc.

I think you know your kid and whether she can handle an email account. And remember, you're the parent. If the privilege is abused or you no longer feel safe about it, delete the account.

I have tons more I could say--and likely will--but I'm running to class.

Magpie said...

Hmm. Food for thought. It's not something I've given any thought too, 'til now. The girl hasn't raised it as an issue, so I'll leave it be for now.

cara said...

wow susan! you are a few yrs ahead of me in this area so let know how it all works out and then give me all the good stuff you learned! its a different world out there- even from a few yrs ago. i so agree w/ your view pt too :)

Rev Dr Mom said...

Like jo(e) I don't remember when the Kid got his email..not as early as 2nd grade, but we had probably just gotten our computer when he was in 2nd grade. I was more concerned about myspace which is where all his middle school friends seemed to want to be but he was never much into that. It just felt skeezier than fb does.

It's interesting though that younger kids are so interested in email, b/c ime by the time they are in high school email is passe and it's all about twitter or fb. Of course when CG and BB are in high school it could be a whole new thing.

Anonymous said...

Our internet provider (AT&T) has an option for a kid's email account. It restricts certain functionality, and requires adult approval to set it up and do things like change passwords, etc. My two oldest kids have email - I think they both got email at about age 10.