Approximately three years ago, then ten-year-old “Jack” asked me if he could have an email account. I reacted as any parent would when her first-born stretches into uncharted territory: I peered into the future, envisioned every kind of horror that lay in wait, freaked out, then accepted reality and gave the kid an email address along with a list of seventeen rules to guide his behavior. My elder child, who thrives on structure and always likes to know where he stands, has managed his account well, and we all survived.
Now my younger child has reached the age of ten, and it is time for her to acquire an email address, too. Not because ten is a magic number, but because my husband and I have begun to find ourselves in situations where we would like our daughter to be able to exchange texts with us. We don’t think Emmie needs a cell phone yet, but she can text us via wifi on her iPod if she’s equipped with an email address. (In case you’re wondering: yes, we are aware that we are providing the catalyst for what will undoubtedly be a lifetime of nonstop texting. Well, someone had to do it.)
“Emmie” likes structure, too, but not in the same way Jack does. Seventeen rules would overwhelm Emmie, and she would end up following none of them. So while Emmie receives her email address with the same expectations with which Jack received his, for Emmie I trimmed the list of rules to seven. I explained to her that these rules are designed to keep her safe and to make sure she treats other people with the same consideration with which she would like people to treat her. We discussed the meaning of each rule when I gave her the list, and I provided examples to illustrate my points.
Emmie’s 7 Email & Texting Rules
- Protect your personal information. Don’t send anyone your last name, phone number, address, birthday, social security number or anything else private via email unless we tell you to do so.
- Don’t click on any links or attachments, or email anyone new, without asking us first.
- If you get an email from someone you don’t know or someone not on your approved list, don’t open it; get one of us.
- You have to give us your password(s). Related: don’t delete your history or your trash file. We need access to your messages.
- Don’t email to anyone anything you wouldn’t want the whole school to read. Don’t be nasty or rude in emails or texts; sometimes messages have a way of getting out to other people even when you don’t think they will.
- Don’t access your email from a computer, phone or iPod other than ours without permission. If you do use someone else’s computer or device to access your email, make sure you log out when you are done.
- These rules are for your protection. Your email account is a privilege, just like your iPod. We can revoke either or both at any time if you don’t follow these rules.
Together, these seven rules let Emmie know that she’s welcome to communicate with others in the digital world, but she’s not yet ready to do so on her own. Like anything else, she will earn her autonomy gradually, through demonstration of knowledge, wisdom and good behavior. I’m sure that before I know it, our roles will reverse and she’ll be correcting me on my own texting behavior–just like her older brother does on a regular basis now.