As a parent, you have to deal with a lot of uncertainties, not the least of which is your children’s online activity.
Whether your child accesses the internet for the first time on one of your devices, a sibling’s, or the child’s own iPod or other handheld, their first online experience is going to be relatively well controlled – by you. There is a point in time when it gets more complicated; the day that your child can use his own email address while navigating the web.
Having your own email address allows two-way communication, enables access to different sites and networks and creates the beginning of an online identity. It also ushers in potential predator risk, cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate conduct and content. Be prepared.
You may have already established an email address because a good one was available (firstname.lastname@example.org), but don’t hand it over until you’ve considered the consequences.
When should you start to evaluate?
To state the obvious, a child shouldn’t have his own email address before being able to read and write proficiently. Unless he understands the words in the “from” and “subject” fields, he’ll just be clinking blindly.
At some point, the decision of when may be made for you. As more school curriculum moves online, and as teachers, coaches and clubs want to communicate with your child directly, he may need an email address earlier than you might think.
Ready to roll? Here’s what to consider
When making the email decision, the child’s age is less important that his maturity level. Assuming that you’re going to give him some usage and safety guidelines (do this!), you need to be sure he understands why those guidelines are important, and what the consequences are of ignoring them.
One hybrid option that we recommend is starting your child off with an email address shared with a parent, or one that the whole family shares. That way, at least one parent will be able to easily see all incoming communications, and review all activity if that is required.
If you think that your child is ready to have and use his own email address, start the process by offering some help in setting it up, and use the opportunity to have an in depth conversation about the responsibility that comes with it.
- First consider how the name is displayed – if your child’s email address contains a complete real name, you might want to change how that displays when sending email.
- Who would you willingly give your child’s email address to? Your child need to be on board with that list, act accordingly, and avoid sites that display user email addresses.
- Talk about what the email address is connected to – for example, if it is a Gmail address, by default it is connected to a Google+ and YouTube account. Opting out of that is almost impossible.
- This is also a great opportunity to discuss what they can do with it – to sign up for most gaming networks, social media sites and online anything, you need an email address. The flip side of that is that once your child has an email address, that and an internet connection is all he needs to sign up for Facebook or Ask.fm, with your permission or without. Make sure he knows what sites and networks are off limits.
Above all, 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.
Once your child has an 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.