kids and computers, kids and email, kids and e-mail, kids and the internet, growing up

(Photo credit: Paul Mayne via Flickr.com)

No.  You can’t.  You are a child.  You can build with Legos and play soccer and giggle that high-octave laugh when I, as the Ticklemonster, tackle you to the ground after dinner and tickle your armpits and belly until you can hardly breathe.  You can jump up and down like one of those oversized super-bouncy balls you love whenever I announce I’m making chocolate chip cookies, and then you can gobble down five of those cookies in two minutes, only stopping because I insist.

You don’t need an email account for any of that.

When your friends come over, you can trade those Legos, and I can keep an ear open to that and make sure the commerce doesn’t leave anyone feeling like they’ve been done an irreparable injustice.  I can glance out the window when you throw the football or play hide-and-seek and remind you to get out of the road, both for your sake and for your friends’, whom I’d like to return to their parents in one piece.  When you go to a friend’s house, I’m not there, but we have talked a lot and the fact is I know the parents at least a little bit.  I know that a responsible adult is always present.

But now you want to go into The World.  The virtual world.  Without me.

You are just a child.

The thing about the virtual world is that it feels so pretend.  Tap, tap, click, click, enter.  Send.  Here now.  Then gone.  It’s so ephemeral.  Just like a game.  What does that message mean?  Who will remember anything you’ve said and done?  Can a child really understand the complexities of the virtual world?

“What do you mean, Mommy, when you say that anything I do could have consequences?”

You’re not a little boy anymore, “Jack.”  You are a child, but you’re not Peter Pan, and this is not Neverland.  You’re old enough to learn by doing.

So yes, Jack.  You can have an email account.

But it’s going to come with rules–lots of them.  And supervision.  And we’re going to have plenty of talks.  (Go ahead, Jack: roll your eyes.  I am so ready for that.)  This email account is a privilege, one that you’ve earned by acting responsibly up to this point and that you will continue to earn if you use it in a responsible manner.  Abuse the privilege, and you’ll get your first lesson in how older kids lose big-kid privileges.  I’m hopeful, though, that we won’t have to worry about that for a while.

Because I want you to have fun with your email account.  Honestly, I do.  I know some of the friends you have in mind for your first messages.  Like you, they’re good kids.  You’ll email back and forth jokes I probably wouldn’t understand, gross ten-year-old boy humor, Star Wars commentary and perhaps the Daily Rate for the Boba Fett figurine on the Fourth Grade Lego Exchange Market.*  And who knows what else?**

But do me a favor as you enter the virtual world, at least for a little while.  Don’t stop giggling and squealing at a pitch that threatens to burst my eardrums.  Don’t stop chomping those chocolate chip cookies as fast as I can make them.

And please don’t stop calling me “Mommy.”

If you’ve got any thoughts on email use by kids or rules for kids starting out with their own email accounts, please share them in the comments below.

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*I totally made that up.  I think.

**In fact, Jack, I’ll know some of what you’ll be emailing.  One of our rules will be that your father and I get to randomly read your emails, at least for a while.  We won’t read all of them.  As you get older, you will be given more privacy.

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