Monday, October 12, 2009

e-mail: the boys' new frontier

When is the right time to introduce children to the internet? What is the "appropriate" age for a kid to have his own e-mail account? At what age can kids expect even a modicum of privacy in these (and possibly other) matters? Is it at 16? Birth? When they move out? These are questions with which nearly every parent struggles in today's culture. It's difficult for Jason and I to figure out the "right" answer when the environment our kids live in is so completely different from that of our own childhood.

Our older boys are nearly-13 and 8. Samuel has already been told several times that he may not have a MySpace account. He started asking around the age of 9. (He had a friend who had her own account. Said friend was 7 at the time which, I'm not going to lie, I judged far too young.) For a variety of reasons we just haven't felt that Sam has been ready for any kind of account, e-mail or otherwise. But he's almost 13 now. As I posted on Friday, we have family and friends spread out all over the world. He would also like to keep track of some of his friends from school. We're a military family; so are his friends'. They all move around a lot. He would like to "talk" to them more often and I know that they would like to talk to him as well. So for the past several months, Jason and I have been considering the various options for getting the boys on the web.

But wait! Isn't Jake only 8? What's up with that? Isn't that some sort of double standard? How unfair!

Yeah, there is a certain amount of inequality to allowing Jake have his own account at 8. We own that. But to answer all my questions from the opening paragraph, we don't feel that there is "an" appropriate age. Not a one-size-fits-all one anyway. Each kid is different and they have to be treated as individuals. Jake is a lot more mature for his age than Samuel is. At some point that is going to even out but, for now, it is the simple truth. He will more than likely only interact with family and family friends for the time being as I am sure that the majority of his friends do not have their own e-mail account right now. But he will have his own.

As far as the definition of "own"...well, they are kid accounts. We opened an sub-accounts under our main account for each of them. They can only receive e-mails from pre-approved e-mail addresses. They can't participate in any chatting of any kind. There is monitoring software involved. We have the passwords to their accounts. (If they change them we can still get into them...remember, their accounts are sub-accounts of our own.) So while they do have their own account, they have zero privacy. I don't know when that might change. We'll cross that bridge as we come to it.

So as we start to saw away at this particular apron string I ask, when did (or do) you plan to introduce your kids to the internet? Have you already? If you already did, do you feel like you timed it "right"? Or do you think you were too early or late?

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