Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ask Cloud: Email for a Seven Year Old

Awhile back, I tweeted out my misery at having to figure out the rules under which Pumpkin, my very persistent seven year old, could have email.

One of my followers picked up on that and asked if I would write a bit more about the decision to let her have email, and the logistics of setting that up. I decided to make it into an Ask Cloud post, because we're still figuring out the details and I'd love to hear what other people think about this, too.

First: the decision to let her have email. We delayed it for awhile. She's been asking for email since she got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. She might even have started asking for email before she knew that Santa was going to heed her repeated pleas for a Kindle Fire.

At first, we resisted because we didn't see what she would do with email. She said she'd email her friends, but that wasn't exactly a strong argument. We'd already had to talk to her about how she can't just make plans with her friends without checking with us first, and email seemed likely to exacerbate that problem.

Then I started to think ahead a bit. At some point, she's going to get online. She'll get a phone, and she'll start texting with her friends and using whatever social media app is in with her group. She'd already found a game she could play on her Kindle Fire that was networked and allowed her to interact with the other kids in her class who played it. We weren't going to be able to block her off from the online world, and we don't really want to try.

But we do need to get her acclimated to that world, and the more guarded behavior it requires. We need her to learn that any message committed to the network has to be assumed to be public, even if she doesn't intend it to be so, and even if most times it her messages remain between her and the intended recipient.  We need her to learn to think at least a little about worst case scenarios before she sends anything.

I started to think about how I would teach all of these things, and I realized it would be sooooo much easier to teach them before we hit the age of hormones. I realized it would be easier to teach them now, when it doesn't feel like a huge invasion of her privacy for us to have her email password and for my email address to be the rescue address on her account, and when she's still willing to come to us with most of her questions.

Mr. Snarky was still not won over. I think I would have won the day eventually, but in the end our trip to France is what changed is mind. We took a picture of one or both of us on one of our phones every day, and sent it home. He realized it would be so much more fun to send it directly to the kids, instead of relying on others to show it to them.

And so, the decision was made to get Pumpkin email.

Next, we had to settle on the rules. They ended up being pretty simple:

  1. Only send email to people in your address book, and tell us before you add anyone new.
  2. Don't read an email from someone you don't know without showing it to us first.
  3. Don't send any pictures to anyone without checking with us first.
We also told her that we'd check in her account occasionally (since we have the password), and talked about how email isn't really private.

We said that as she gets older, we'll relax the rules a bit. We'll figure out what that means when we get there.

Then we set her up an account with Gmail. Since she's not yet 13, it is technically my account, but it is in her name. She helped us pick out the handle.

So far, the email experience has been good. She has sent some emails to friends. She emails with my parents a bit, and last week, while she was in Arizona with my parents, she sent me an email that was at least 50% emoji. That pretty much made my week.

Do your kids have email? How old were they when they got it? Have you had any problems?


Completely unrelated plug: I am offering an online seminar on running better meetings. It is enrolling now. It is short and cheap and there will probably be somewhat funny pictures in my slides because that's how I roll.


  1. Oh hey, I'm the person who asked about this, so thanks! It's going to be super-useful when Mr. 7 eventually discovers that email is something that he might want for himself.

    Two questions that occurred to me after I asked the original question:

    1. How do you handle spam? I'm guessing that since only specific people that you select have her address, there isn't much but eventually there will be some, right? Is there a way to tell Gmail, "only put messages from people in my Contacts into my inbox, and send everything else to spam"? (I am not so swift with the Gmail filtering rules.)

    2. How have you handled making sure that she has a strong password? My Mr. 7 isn't touch-typing yet, so even finding letters on the keyboard is a laborious process. I can't imagine how hard he'd find it to have to type a password that included capitals, numbers, symbols, and signs of the zodiac. Or maybe her interface is set up so that she stays logged in most of the time?

    Thanks again!

    1. You're welcome!

      Spam hasn't been an issue yet. Google's default filters are pretty good, and since we haven't put her email address any place it could be scraped, she hasn't gotten anything that got through the filters.

      We helped her pick a moderately strong password- upper and lower case, numbers, and one punctuation character. She accesses email from her Kindle, which leaves her logged in. It has its own passcode on it, so we don't worry about leaving her email logged in.

  2. My parents didn't regulate what I could do with the internet at all (to be fair, there was less to do back then, and I was at least... 11? when I first had email.) But anyway. I definitely saw and did things they would not have approved of. But also I am fine now :). I also probably read things in books that weren't age-appropriate, once I was old enough to make it through a Jilly Cooper novel or two.

    It sounds like a good approach to set all the restrictions now, before she is a teenager who really needs space and privacy to explore the world.

    1. I think one of the hardest things as a parent is figuring out how to balance protecting your kids and letting them explore and learn things on their own. Anyway, these are some off the hardest questions for me as a parent!

  3. Really interesting, thanks! My parents are on another continent so it's always nice to think of ways to foster a relationship between them and my hypothetical future kids.

  4. This is really great information. My oldest is 5, so we are not there yet (he doesn't quite get what the internet even is, much less email, though he knows about Facebook and texting).

  5. Very glad that you shared this. I grew up with the internet about the time it became more widely used so I learned everything the hard way, long before internet and other bullying was as common as it is now, but I'm not looking forward to sharing these realities with LB. Nevertheless, they're really important and it's best to start laying the basic lessons long before ze thinks it's just another thing to rebel against. Especially regarding security :/

  6. I'm glad to hear your take on this! I've been setting my kids up this year as well (I wrote a post on Cool Mom Tech about it) and it's been interesting learning all the things kids don't know, that we take for granted. You'll mostly see it when she starts emailing other friends because they're the ones who do things that make you think, "did their parents even set up any rules?"

    One more tip: All their emails get forwarded to me. They get filtered into a folder out of my inbox, but they (and their friends) are aware that see everything they receive. It's actually really reassuring.

    Good luck! Can't wait to hear more. -L


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.