Okay parents, if your child’s age is still in the single digits, she might not yet have her first email address. If she does, you’re probably either waiting to give her unsupervised access, or she doesn’t even know about it yet.
If she doesn’t have one yet, you can get started any time. After all, if your child’s name is Charlotte Smithfield, we’re sure you’ll agree that firstname.lastname@example.org is a much better email address than email@example.com. The sooner you claim it, the better.
Note: Before your daughter graduates to her big girl email, you might want to start with an interim step. There are family friendly email providers such as KidsEmail that offer free starter email programs with built in parental monitoring capability. Feel free to check one out.
Once you have selected a permanent email address for your child, there are some things you need to think about before handing it over, especially if you don’t have older kids and this is your first rodeo. There is also some prep work you’re going to want to do with your child. To wit:
When – There is no one answer to the question of what age is correct for having one’s own email address. It depends on the child’s maturity level, and the child’s level of digital awareness, or digital IQ. In general, you want your child to understand that not everything online is as it seems.
The risks – Well, they are numerous, including potential predator risk, cyberbullying, identity theft and exposure to inappropriate conduct and content. There are plenty of resources on this website and elsewhere online that can help you get your child up to speed.
Signing up – You child will no doubt have internet access before having an email address. The main difference is that when she has her own email address, she can sign up for websites and social media, changing the game entirely. Telling your 10 year old, “No, you can’t have an Instagram account” just got a lot trickier. She can sign up without your permission unless you’re monitoring.
Understanding spam and hackers – Children have a tendency to believe that everyone’s motives are positive. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Your child needs to understand that incoming emails must be viewed critically. Have an action plan for what to do when your child receives an email from an unknown sender, or one containing a link or attachment that looks suspect. Phishing attacks are a real risk. The younger the child is, the more likely that you want your child to do nothing, and tell you about it.
The password – Establish a strong, unique password. At least for the first few months or years, log in yourself to make sure she hasn’t changed it. You’ll want to be able to access her messages quickly if anything goes wrong or she is in danger.
Guidelines – Clearly establish guidelines for what types of activities and behavior are permissible are what aren’t. Guidelines should include protecting personal information, including who she gives her email address to (close friends only) and whether she posts it online (no!).
Once your child has her own email address, the options available online increase greatly, as do the risks. And once your child has an email address, it’s tough to take it away. Act accordingly.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.