My daughter is able to read enough words now that the idea of email is appealing to her. She likes the idea of writing to and hearing back from her grandparents. Being an independent sort (I wonder where she gets that from,) she wants to do it through her own account.
Not wanting to subject her to spam and unwanted email solicitations, I started researching email programs for children and teens. What I found were a number of programs and services that fit in one or more of these camps:
- Outdated and no longer supported.
- Not available for download
- $40 or more for purchase
- $4/month or more for service.
I liked many of the features of the web-based services, including the screening of email and even kid-friendly graphic user interfaces. But I didn’t want my girl to have an address at “kidsafemail.com” or anything like that. So here is my system.
First, secure your child an email address in something other than their name. Use a gmail handle that means something to your family, but not identifying your child. “Punkinpatch@gmail.com” might do the trick.
Next, configure the webmail account so it auto-forwards all e-mails to both parents’ email addresses. This way, if your child registers a pet or something at Webkinz, you’ll know about it (and have a handy copy of the account info, should your child lose the password.)
Your child will never log in to the actual gmail account. You’re just using it for the spam filtering and the back-end archiving. Instead, you will use an e-mail client on the computer.
I recommend downloading Mozilla Thunderbird, Portable Edition from PortableApps.com. There are many useful applications there that are designed to run off a USB thumb-drive. The original program is tweaked so it is not bonded to the registry of the computer, and is completely self-contained in a folder.
Instead of putting it on a thumbdrive, we’re going to install it in a folder on your computer.
Once installed, make a shortcut of the .exe file and add it to the desktop.
Next, you’ll need to configure Thunderbird. This is easy, as you are just going to link it to the Gmail account. When you do, you’ll want to use the POP settings instead of the IMAP. IMAP is generally considered more modern, advanced, sophisticated and useful — but not for your child. We will use the POP protocol, so the messages downloaded will stay on the server for archival purposes.
After creating the account, you’ll need to add in the approved contacts in the Thunderbird Address Book. Add as many addresses for your family members as they might use, because we’re going to filter out everything that isn’t in the Address Book.
Now, go into the Options for Thunderbird, and set up a filter that deletes any message that is not from a known sender. You might want to jack the default display font up to 32 or so.
Once it’s done, you now have an interface for your child that allows contact only with those people you want them to communicate with. Since your child doesn’t know the password of the account, there’s no way for them to log in from the web interface. If the child does add contacts to the address book, you won’t really be surprised because all the messages are forwarded to both parents anyway. And if the child starts interacting with a person, business or organization that you’d prefer they not (like a Hannah Montana fan club featuring ads for a line of Pole-Dancing wardrobe) you can set up auto-delete filters on the Gmail end – and the issue is gone.
Best of all, the entire system is free. And my daughter is able to write back and forth to her Mamaw.
Do you have any other suggestions? Share them in the comments. And if you’ve found this idea useful, let me know.