Q: I want to find an email service that allows my 11-year-old only to receive messages from a list of "approved" email addresses and one that forwards any email she receives from someone who is not on that list to my email account. Do you know of such a service? If not, which email service do you recommend for kids?
– Email-Anxious Dad in Los Altos, CA
A: Dear Dad,
Which email service you choose for your child really depends on what you’re looking for—there’s no single right answer for all situations. You can certainly find a provider based on the features you’ve outlined by doing a Web search for “email,” “child,” “protect,” etc. This article reviews a few, and there are many more that you can find for a fee or even for free. (Remember, though, that if email providers aren’t collecting money from you, they are likely selling ad space instead. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re comfortable with marketers targeting your child this way.)
That said, the heart of your question seems to focus on how to keep your child safe as she becomes a cyber-communicator. One of the challenges is that no techno-fix is perfect, so even if you find an email service you’re happy with, it’s important for your daughter to learn to take care of herself on email. To help with that, consider monitoring her as she learns how to use it. Think of the first few weeks as her having a Learner’s Permit: Sit next to your tween initially, laying foundation rules to keep her safe; then move to the backseat (i.e., be in the room and available for when she has questions). Like the road, digital correspondence can be navigated well when your child is educated but dangerous if she’s not.
In addition to housing the computer in a shared space—to keep all activity clearly out in the open—also consider taking this four-part online safety course with your tween. Created in conjunction with our partners at iKeepSafe.org, it will emphasize what she should do if someone she doesn’t know tries to contact her or if she receives email that is confusing, even if it doesn’t seem bad or threatening. (Forwarding those emails to you is the best first step!)
Finally, Dad, recognize that email is a quickly aging technology for tweens today. Communication between kids—and from people who want to reach kids—is more regularly happening through instant messages and social networks like Facebook. Your job is to stay on top of these rapidly changing communication methods and to keep an open, honest dialogue with your child about how (and how safely) she is using them.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,