All three of my children have email addresses. We sat together in front of the computer to come up with Gmail addresses that were not already taken. We had just recently moved from Atlanta to Toronto, and our children were missing their friends and their grandparents and their aunts and uncles and cousins. They were missing family members who are scattered all over the world, including as far as Australia and Israel.
My daughter at 10 and my son at 8 are far more technologically savvy than I am, and took to email quicker than I had expected. They are aware that I have their passwords, and they know that I check in on their accounts frequently, just to see what they are up to. Truthfully, they aren’t up to very much. They are asking my sister about the weird things people say in Australia, they are asking their friends in Atlanta what they are doing for the summer, they are emailing me possible homework questions and they are arranging play dates and park dates and possible sleepovers. Frankly, I am happy that they are learning this communication tool. My children know that I have a job in media and spend a lot of time on the computer communicating through Twitter, Skype, Facebook and, of course, through email. I want them to understand what this is all about; I want them to learn these important navigation skills. I mean, after all, so much of what we do these days is done on the computer.
Recently, I came across an article titled, Google Made My Son Cry, and I found myself nodding away while I read about how Google locked 10-year-old Alex’s Gmail account because at under 13 years old, he is in violation of their terms of service. By this ruling, my children would also be in violation, and there’s a possibility that their accounts could be locked as well.
On the one hand, I understand that Google has rules, and this child was in violation of them. And I really, truly understand why Google has rules. The world wide web can be a scary, scary place for unsupervised children; children who have not been educated in internet safety by responsible parents. But as the web gets bigger and more prevalent in our lives, more children are beginning to learn the ins and outs of online communication. Children are getting Facebook accounts and are making YouTube videos and are Skyping with relatives. As a responsible parent, the age of thirteen seems much too old. While this seemingly arbitrarily set number (other than a Bar-Mitzvah, what exactly is the significance of age 13?) may make sense for some children, it certainly doesn’t make sense for all of them. It doesn’t make sense for Alex, and it doesn’t make sense for my children.
Google needs some sort of adult consent process. They need to allow for responsible parents to let Google know that their children will be using Google responsibly. Because I know some aunts in Australia and some friends in Atlanta and some cousins in Israel who would be really sad if my kids’ accounts were suspended.
What do you think? Do your kids have email accounts? Would you allow them to have them before the age of 13, or do you feel that rules are rules and that they have to wait?
–Ali, Senior Associate Editor of CF.ca