Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gmail! A Safe Option

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Bam. Bam. Bam. It’s relentless. “I want. I need.” One punch after the other from my eleven-year-old gearing up to take her place in this century. “Gotta have. All my friends have.” This time it is e-mail, only she’s calling it Gmail.

I plug my ears and start humming. Loudly. My tactic doesn’t work. Addy stays put until I agree to talk.

“First Facebook. Now e-mail. It’s too much.” I roll my eyes. I feel like a drowning parent adrift in the 21st century Technology Triangle—with time running out and no rudder.

“Okay.” As if I need something else to do. “Let me look into it.”

Turns out Gmail, Google’s web-based email server, can be child friendly and the perfect solution for children eight to twelve. Gmail offers free email accounts to users and seems to have a developed spam filter system. It also has features that allow parents to monitor their child’s use of e-mail, making sure no bad guys are lurking around.

Later that day I tell Addy the good news.

She starts naming all the Gmail users, all friends at school, that she already knows. “Let’s do it now!” she says. She is ready to take her place in the wired world.

Together we set up her account. I already had a Google account, but if you don’t, you’ll need to create one. That’s fairly easy to do and if you don’t know how, I’ve written out complete instructions in another post on this blog.

Depending on the child’s age, you might find the Chat Feature on the site unsettling. You can ban your child from using it or monitor its use. All chat room dialogue can be saved and viewed later. The privacy settings can be set to prevent non-invited chatters from even soliciting your child. If you have difficult finding, again you’ll find instructions on my blog.

I have a few more words to the wary—

Caveat for parents: It would take my computer genius daughter less than five minutes to alter everything I did to protect her when we set up her account. I gave her the map and the key by going through the process with her. We talk a lot about the dangers of the Internet, and she gets it. If you have a child who doesn’t, more restrictions and supervision might be required.

Here’s the truth: The Internet is an unsupervised playground for our children, where anyone can pretend to be a kid. Just like in the real world, not all adults play nice. A downside to the World Wide Web is that bad adults do hang out there. They have the skills to deceive and trick us, especially children, who lack our life experience.

When you introduce the Internet to your child, create ground rules. If you don’t know enough about how the system works, take classes or get a friend to help. Ask me! As far as Addy is concerned … she knows I mean business! She also knows that I WILL go back and look at everything she’s done online. At some point it will be time to let her fly solo. But for now I want her to be able to play with her friends without the age inappropriate burden of trying to figure out who’s safe and who’s not. That’s my job as the grown-up. Addy will earn her privacy Internet wings a little later in life.