How to ensure safety while letting my daughter get her own email address?

The tempest has come home: my 11yo daughter A- has begun communicating via email with her out of state cousin. Nothing amazingly new, except we’ve kept our children off the computer completely so it is a brave new world. To date, email from the cousin is sent to Linda, who then shows it to A-, who then uses Linda’s account to compose a response or new message.
Alright, I say begrudgingly, maybe, just maybe it’s time to let her have an email account of her own, as a step towards being an autonomous young adult on the Internet.
But the Internet is a scary place, she’s 11 and used to us protecting her and shielding her from the rough edges of life. I’m concerned.
Here’s what I’ve proposed…


Here’s what I sent to Linda in response to her suggestion that we let A- have her own Gmail account. My proposed terms were:
1. We always both know her account password. I would also like to consider setting up a mail filter on her Gmail account so that any messages she receives are automatically also forwarded to both of us so we can keep an eye on things benevolently.
2. You and I define exactly when and how she can access her email, whether it’d be during school days, etc., and stick to it religiously.
3. We come up with a solution that makes it clear the younger kids (e.g. G-, our 8yo boy) are not part of this club. Maybe make it a privilege of turning 10? Or wait until A-‘s next birthday and make it a 12yo rite of passage?
The editorial comment that I included: “I want us to go into this with our eyes wide open. I read a lot about kids who make connections under their parents noses that then prove harmful, so I want us to go very, very slowly with this and ensure that we can help keep A- safe as long as possible. I’m happy erring on the side of paranoia in this instance.”
So, blogging community and fellow parents: am I erring on the side of paranoia? Is this too much? Too little? How do you let your children – esp. younger children – have their freedom and independence while you are still able to keep a benevolent eye on them and ensure that they’re safe and not exposed to crappy spam and online weirdos?

7 comments on “How to ensure safety while letting my daughter get her own email address?

  1. I think your steps and plans are prudent. When my son (about to turn 14, then 11) wanted to get email and get online, we had a good talk about things to do and not do online, like giving out personal information about himself or us, what to do if he gets or sees something scary, etc.
    I did something fun with him, too – we setup his own domain and used Google Apps. This gives us a couple of things. First, I’m the admin of the domain and the Google Apps account, so I can control all the settings. Secondly, on his account, I’ve added my wife and I as cc on all his mail so we can keep an eye on things.
    Finally, Google Apps is a great tool for homework! He can do all his papers and homework at home on his mac (my old iBook – more on that in a sec), and still get them on the computers at school. Unfortunately, the BVSD uses Windows machines for everything and expects kids to have flash drives to carry files back and forth.
    The other thing we do is use OSXs built-in parental controls on the machine he uses. As I mentioned, he has his own computer, a 14″ G4 iBook running Leopard. I set myself up as the admin user and him up as a regular user. Using the Parental Controls System Preferances pane, you can specify what timeframes they’re allowed to use the computer, how long they can use it, and set numerous content filtering options. You can specify sites you don’t want them at as well. Also, I can monitor what he’s doing from my MBP real time – it’s really quite cool.
    As to your last comment: Every parent has to be in touch with their child(ren)s maturity level and give them freedom and independence as they’re ready for it. I don’t think you’re being paranoid at all. The key, of course, is knowing when to loosen the controls and how much. 🙂

  2. I think an 11 year old can use email, BUT not to the detriment of excluding other activities. We all know that we can be on our PC’s and look “Gasp” we’ve been on it for more than an hour. So, as long as you have all the fail safe methods in place and do limit time and days it’s available it’s possibly ok.
    Frankly, I think she’s too young, but then she’s not my child.

  3. Fortunately, I never had to address this with my kids until they were old due to timing of availability of email to the general public.
    When my kids were young, there was a board game we used to play with them called “Don’t Talk To Strangers” to help teach them what to do when confronted with situations out there in real life.
    It was very helpful because you can’t always be there to see what is going on and have to teach them how to behave and to prepare them.
    Florida has set up a site to assist in this regard when it comes to cyber safety……
    http://www.safeflorida.net/
    I’m sure there must be others out there.

  4. Hi,
    I totally agree with the measures your taking to protect your daughter, I think I would be the same. You hear all kinds of stories of weirdos online. It’s good that your protective over her.

  5. I was interested by this post, very much.
    First of all, I was interested to know what the legal age limit was in Google’s TOS and, after reading the TOS, I came across this article: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13739_3-9902548-46.html
    Very interesting. I suppose with parent involvement, the gmail account can be in the name of the parent etc., this could be ok.
    Secondly, I’m always suprised to find out how controversal this issue of monitoring your children is. I think it is wonderful how proactive you are in the protection of your family. Kudos!

  6. I had a funny experience this week. As background, I am a wired parent and I run some online educational sites and blogs so I consider myself a cutting edge user. Still, my 9 year old amazed me this past week by telling me, “Dad, I set up my own Gmail account. Is that OK?”
    Having already managed my elder children’s transition into the online world, at ages 12ish, I was surprised that I could be surprised and have missed that he was ready.
    I quickly reviewed what he had done, got the password, and will set it up this week as a kid safe Gmail account (look at link in my signature for specific instructions).
    I will tell hime that I have set up the gmail in a way that I can monitor it (I won’t tell him that he can, when he gets sophisticated, undo it)

  7. I stumbled across your blog while doing research to support my students (and their parents) as they begin to enter the realm of life on the internet. As a Waldorf teacher I applaud you for setting clear, firm boundaries with e-mail. I think it is necessary for children to start taking small steps toward a proficiency with the computer around her age… mainly they need to learn how to turn it off and discretion.
    In my opinion the best thing parents can do, in addition to your guidelines, is to keep the computer in a public space… no hiding in their bedroom with the laptop! This won’t be an issue for those practicing attachment parenting.

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