If you can’t tell by now, I love Gmail. So I decded to create an account for #1. There are a number of features that make me feel safe and in control of his introduction to email, and I thought I’d share them so that others might be able to do the same with their kids.
First of all, Gmail has pretty effective spam filters, so that I almost never get any unwanted junk (for some reason, the only spam that does make it through to me anymore is investment offers). Second, Gmail by default doesn’t show pictures that are included in emails. Every time an email shows up with pictures, you have to explicitly click to “show pictures in this email” or “always show pictures from email@example.com”. Most important of all, though, you can set up email forwarding, so that every email your kid gets will automatically be forwarded to the set of addresses you choose. Since #1’s emails get forwarded to both me and T, and we check our email a lot more frequently, we always see his email, and we can tell him when to go check for email. Of course, there is the possibility that your kid will learn enough about Gmail to tamper with those filters/change their password so you can’t get in and check up on them, etc. But by that point, the kid has the ability to create an unlimited number of free email accounts all over the web anyways!
There are two ways to do forwarding in Gmail. The direct way is to click “Settings” (upper right), then click on the “Forwarding and POP” tab. Instead of the default “Disable forwarding”, select “Forward a copy of incoming mail to ” and type in the address from which you want to monitor your kid’s mail. Leave the dropdown to it’s default “keep Gmail’s copy in the Inbox.” So that is fine for visibility for just one parent, and there is no way (that I can see) to put more than one address into that feature. There’s another way, though. Still in “Settings”, click on “Filters”, “Create a new filter”. One of the ways to filter email for special action is based on entries in the “To:” field. So just put your kid’s new Gmail account, and this filter will thus apply to every email that arrives at this Gmail account! Click “Next Step”. Check the box “Forward to address” and I think you can probably figure it out from there. Again, you can only put one email address in the box, but you can set up many filters, each of which sends to one address.
So when I told #1 that I was going to get him an email account, he asked me whether he would be able to keep it for the rest of his life. The question surprised me, not because I hadn’t already been thinking that myself, but because I don’t understand how he could have thought of that question, since he’s never had to undergo the inconvenience of changing email addresses! I had indeed chosen Gmail in the hopes that it could last his entire life (as I hope to never again change my personal email address). I can’t even conceive of a lifetime with only one (personal) email address! In the ‘old days’, I guess it was relatively common for someone to have only one street address and phone number from marriage to death. The promise of the internet was that virtualized information would be insulated against physical changes. Through the birth pangs of the internet, this promise has not been realized, but I think Gmail (and Hotmail, and Yahoo! mail, etc.) are going to stick around.
Anyways, if you (or your kids, from their new Gmail accounts!) want to welcome #1 to the internet, just let me know offline, and I’ll give you his address!