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Kids are using email at an earlier age than ever before. And it can be a really useful thing to let them communicate with grandparents and other relatives that are spread around the world. But, how do we keep kids safe when using email. There are a number of ways to do this, and we’ve used a combined approach over the years with our daughter.
This is the simplest way to get a kid started using email. It gives you complete control over what is sent and received (just be careful what windows are open and don’t leave them alone on your email account in case you have a surprise Christmas gift ordered on Amazon). You can create a personalized email address through your Gmail account using plus addressing (one method of doing that is outlined here http://flagrantdisregard.com/how-to-give-your-young-children-a-personalized-managed-email-address/).
We let our daughter use my wife’s account for a while before she got her own account. It worked out reasonably well while she was in elementary school. There were just a few emails a week. We could filter what she saw and what she sent.
Once our daughter turned eleven, it seemed like she had enough friends with email accounts of their own that we should get her one. We decided to get her an account specifically targeted towards kid users. There are a number of services out there, but we went with Zoobuh (www.ZooBuh.com). It gives you a lot of parental control which you can turn on and off depending on your kid and how involved you feel you need to be. The features in particular that we like are:
ZooBuh has other features we haven’t taken advantage of yet, like controlling when your child can use it (perhaps turning it off before you get home from work, or if you’ve grounded them from email use). Overall, for the minimal cost, it’s worth it. There are some services that are “free” for kids and claim to offer similar feature sets. I would be leery of any free email service since they either have to have a business model that makes money or they will be out of business. I want to reduce the number of ads my kids see so I don’t want their email service paid for with ads for candy.
Lastly, of course, you can give your child a regular email account with your internet service provider or another email service that allows for young users. Yahoo! and AOL apparently allow you to create special kids accounts (see information on that on eHow.com - http://www.ehow.com/info_8095623_email-accounts-kids.html). If your internet service provider (ISP) includes some free email accounts you could create one there as well. Many services such as Gmail do not allow accounts for kids under 13 in the United States because of internet privacy rules.
If you create an account on one of these systems for your child I urge you to make sure you know the password to the account and let your child know that you may check their email account at any time (this is a good rule for any on-line account your kids have). Most of these email systems allow you to set up an email forward that would give you a copy of all incoming emails but it’s usually difficult to ensure you’re seeing their outgoing email.