14 May 2008

Kid-safe email? Talk amongst yourselves.

For my next PC.com post, I'll be writing about kid-safe email (thanks for the suggestion, Jill!). I've been talking with my Twitter buddies about it, but would love to open up the discussion a bit more.

I'm researching "made for kids" email systems plus best practices for using a free and open system such as Gmail. Lots of good advice out there -- what's your take?

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I've tried both kidmail.net and zoobuh.com. Kidmail was pretty simple, Zoobuh had a crazy interface. Both are great. However, I couldn't bring myself to commit to the fees, not sure why, because they were fairly cheap.

I currently have a custom domain with Google Apps and I have it set up to forward a copy of every incoming message to me.

That doesn't help with reviewing outgoing messages though.

T

It so depends on the age of the kid(s) and the technological savvy of the parents. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Great tips, ideas & news items of interest to parents can be found on Dory Devlin's Yahoo Blog, http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/devlin, and Anne Collier's Blog NetFamilyNews, http://www.netfamilynews.org/ .

I suppose that it depends on the age of the kid. For the younger ones, you can set up the sorting rules in the webmail (e.g. gmail, hotmail) or email software (Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc.) to trash anything from an email address that's not on the whitelist (e.g. in my case, it would be grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins).

admittedly, mine are on the young side (6 & 8), but until they prove untrustworthy, we just use regular gmail. I have incoming messages copied to me, and peek into the account in proportion to how much they've been using the computer. changing the password results in suspension of all screen privileges, not just computer, so I'm not worried about them cutting me off ... yet.

I guess the question that comes upo in my mind, as I read these repsonses, is: How young/at what age do people start having their kids use email? Kid Safe email does not seem like as much of an issue, if the kid is old enough to use and follow guidelines set by the parents. In any case, my child is just a baby. It is hard for me to imagine a need for her to use email until she is at least well into her school-age years.

It sounds like a very interesting read, I look forward to it.

I have set up Mozilla Thunderbird for my daughter with a rule that checks every incoming email against the contacts list I have set up for her. Any emails from people not in the contacts get placed in the trash (which has a rule to immediately delete any messages within it). I also turned my ISP's anti-spam capabilities up to full steam (with a white list of the email addresses in my daughter's contacts list). So far she hasn't received any spam or messages from people she doesn't know.

I haven't set up anything for the outgoing messages because I'm not sure how much I want to be involved in messages she sends out. I could write a rule to add my email as a BCC to all her outgoing messages if I needed to.

We just recently let our 6 year old start email and have found zoobuh.com to be a great mail app/site. Eventualy, she'll get an address with our home domain, but right now I like this.

We chose Zoobuh.

Our boys, ages 8 and 5 use it. Our 8yo uses the more "complicated" interface. The younger one uses the simple interface with our help.

I like that it sends me a copy of all emails to approve before putting them in their inboxes.

I like that it only allows them to otherwise receive emails from people in their contact list.

I like how easy it is for them to add smilies--it makes it more fun!

I think we paid $12 to subscribe. One dollar a month! Not bad.

The spam filters on Yahoo and Gmail were simply not strong enough for me to consider giving them email privileges. Plus, I didn't want to log in to their email to read their emails before they got them!

When the oldest is 10, he can set up his own email account using our POP server. We will, however, use aggressive spam filters and anti-virus software!

We set up a gmail account for each of our kids, but they don't know they can log into them via the web. We then set up the mail app on our MAC to IMAP to their gmail accounts. Then we turned on the parental controls, which are absolutely awesome in OS X/MAC (we're running version 10.5). We can whitelist, blacklist any email address as well as approve or disallow any email sent to them before they ever see it.

Really pretty slick. Anyone already with a MAC or looking to get a computer should really look into this.

Russ

My older daughter, age 9, really wanted an e-mail account. My solution was to set up a Gmail account for her - but the catch was she didn't have the password. This way I can log in to delete any spam and check to see if what she is receiving. I can also check her out-going e-mails, when necessary. She typically only sends to family and a few close friends. She has been fine with this set up.

She also set up a blog so that far-away family can be up-to-date with what's going on. Again, we only allow "white-listed" readers. Since only I have the password, I can control who has access.

My older daughter, age 9, really wanted an e-mail account. My solution was to set up a Gmail account for her - but the catch was she didn't have the password. This way I can log in to delete any spam and check to see if what she is receiving. I can also check her out-going e-mails, when necessary. She typically only sends to family and a few close friends. She has been fine with this set up.

She also set up a blog so that far-away family can be up-to-date with what's going on. Again, we only allow "white-listed" readers. Since only I have the password, I can control who has access.

@Kira: I have let my boys send email since they were able to pound on the keys. When they were old enough to dictate it to me to type I'd do that. Now that Pook is old enough to write by himself, he's getting email from his grandparents. I love to encourage his writing, so I want to give him his own email (and I'm selfish and don't want him on my computer). I like the idea of forwarding all incoming and outgoing email to me b/c I keep a folder as a sort of baby book for each of them and I'd enjoy putting the copies there to hang onto for the future.

I have used Gaggle.net email with my middle school students, but I'm sure it's good for younger ones, too.

If you set up your gmail account to come into your outlook there are several advantages:

One - no need to child to have password.

Two - Gmail filter is strong enough that it filters out every piece of spam I've ever received. Anything not going to the Gmail inbox does not get sent to your Outlook.

Three - You can use the "save outgoing messages" if that is a concern.

THEN - everything is still stored on the gmail on the web - incoming and outgoing. There is no way for them to go into the "sent" messages folder, which I learned how to do really early in email to mask what I was doing, on your web version.

All the advantages of email for your child, all of the advantages for parental peace of mind.

All that being said - My daughter is <1 year. I'm intersted, too, in how early others have done email. I already have a gmail address for her.....

I'm not really a fan of filtering for websites - I think nothing beats teaching and supervision - but I'm not sure how kids safe email is supposed to work. I think instead, I would give them an address on our account (which can have up to 5) so we can access it too, and let them know that we will check occasionally just to make sure there isn't junk coming in that we dont' think is appropriate. We would also advise against opening any mail that is not from someone you know, but letting us take a look first instaed - something like halloween candy. As tehy get older, you would have to back off a bit and trust that that training you gave them would hold.

Hi Asha - The founder of PikLuk http://www.pikluk.com/ recently reached out to me. He seems to have a pretty neat site. I'll send him a note about this post.

Aruni

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