Parenting

Giving our eight-year-old an email account

Ian decides the time is right for his eight-year-old daughter to have her first email account.

Photo: Photodjo/iStockphoto

This has been a rough week in our house.

Sonia is battling a cold that is more stubborn than one of her elderly German relatives. And on Tuesday night, Elissa came down the stomach flu — which means the rest of our family is just waiting to be hit by the bug, as if we are living in that little town from the movie Outbreak.

A family “going viral” doesn’t actually sound all that appealing when it’s mentioned in this context.

So on Wednesday morning, I found myself in a rare situation: I was home with just Elissa, who was staying home from school because of her illness. I actually had the day off from work, which was quite a change of pace for me, because usually I’m in Pittsburgh when one of the kids is puking.

We spent the first part of the morning doing what you usually do at home with a sick child: We watched some cartoons, played on the computer and attempted to drink some Gatorade without any negative consequences. But after a while, we started to get really bored.

The breaking point for me came when Elissa wanted to watch a movie. She ordered Antz from the On-Demand TV selection and I was upset because I insisted we already owned the movie. Elissa countered by saying we actually owned A Bug’s Life instead. After this furious debate concluded, I realized that we were wasting a lot of valuable time. (For the record, Elissa was right — but nobody can blame me for confusing those two movies).

I was playing around on my laptop and decided it was the perfect time to set up an email account for Elissa. Now usually, a decision on giving our eight-year-old an email account would be something that my wife and I would discuss extensively. But considering I had just stayed up all night with a sick child, I figured I had earned the right to make this decision on my own. And yes, perhaps I was feeling a little emasculated from losing the Antz vs. A Bug’s Life debate.

Besides, if Sonia was really opposed to this idea, we could always delete the account without any issues. This wasn’t like I was coming home from the mall with Elissa’s ears pierced without asking for permission first.

The idea had been floating around in my mind for a long time because of my work schedule. I’ve always thought it would be neat if I could send her little personal email messages when I’m travelling on the road. I know she would always appreciate pictures of the team mascots when I’m covering a game in another city. And because she’s such a responsible child, I figured we could trust her to have her own account. Elissa has mentioned that a few of her friends in Grade 3 have email accounts as well, so I didn’t think we were jumping the gun here.

Of course, we are going to monitor her email all the time because the Internet is always trying to sucker in the naïve. I can just see Elissa running to me excitedly saying, “Dad, you’ll never believe this. A prince from Nigeria wants to make us millionaires! All we have to do is send him $100 to get him out of some minor legal trouble, then we can have access to his riches.”

I know I’ll have to help her navigate some of these traps in the early going. And if she gets a spam message about Cialis or Viagara, I’m hoping Sonia will be there to explain it to her.

I set up her email account in just a few minutes. Gmail actually wouldn’t let me register an account for Elissa using her personal information, because she was too young and their policy states that you have to be at least 14 years old to start emailing with them. I was forced to fudge around with her birth date, putting it at 1985 — which means she’s now a prime target to get junk mail about cheap car loans and Backstreet Boys reunion tours. In any event, I used my own phone number and personal email address to verify the account, so that if there are any issues in the future, it will all have to go through me.

After a few minutes of giving her a tutorial, I sent her a note and asked her to respond. A couple of moments later, my Blackberry chimed and sitting in the inbox was the first ever email message from “Elissa Mendes.” Her message was typical Elissa, in that it was short and funny. It simply read:

Dad,

Thanks for setting up my email. Can I have a bank account now?

Sincerely,
Elissa

I have to admit, I loved seeing that little note from her and I’m looking forward to seeing her name come up in my inbox every day from now on.

How old were your kids when they got their first email account?