Just wondered if you could give me some advice on how you would recommend handling kids and email accounts. Our 13 year-old daughter has been asking to get her own email account. How do you determine when your child is ready for that kind of thing, how do you make sure they will be able to use it appropriately and safely, or if they even need one? Any other things I should take into consideration?
I would imagine that parents for hundreds of years have stressed over the timing of introducing their children to the latest technologies. From sending letters to owning a cell phone, generations of parents have most likely fretted about the impact of these forms of communication on the development of their children.
Even though email is not a new form of communication (it’s been around since the 1960s!), it makes some parents nervous to have their children directly connected to the world wide web. However, giving your daughter opportunities to navigate the Internet and have more autonomy online will actually help you feel less nervous as you begin to see how she handles more personal responsibility. In the same way that we don’t just turn an adolescent loose to drive a car without proper supervision, we must give our children chances to “drive” these technologies with careful observation.
As a side note regarding email, you might observe that most of your daughter’s friends probably don’t even use email very often. The adolescents I speak with tell me that they only use email for school assignments and, instead, prefer social media and texting. I’m not suggesting you run out and buy her a mobile phone and set up a Facebook account, but recognize that these are technologies that she’ll need some experience with if she’s going to connect with her peers.
Thirteen is generally the minimum age for having your own social media and email account, so unless she’s extremely immature and irresponsible, she’ll be ready to have her own account.
While she can probably teach how to use these technologies faster than you can teach her, the one thing you CAN teach her is how to behave online. As you’ve probably already seen in the news on occasion, there are plenty of adults who are clueless about how to behave online. You can teach your daughter how to communicate electronically as you show her of all of those little rules of etiquette that don’t come naturally to children and teens. For example, I remember teaching my then 13 year-old son that typing in all caps for an entire sentence is tacky and often seen as aggressive.
I think it’s good practice to have your children share their passwords with you for all of the electronic devices, as a little parental oversight goes a long way. While it’s good to give children privacy, you have to realize that social media, texting, and other forms of sharing their thoughts and feelings don’t get buried away in some special diary, but instead, get broadcasted to the world and could cause them unimaginable social and emotional problems.
As long as children have parents that are willing to stay close to them electronically (“friend” them on Facebook, monitor their emails, and check their Instagram photos), it can be a rewarding experience to see them express themselves and connect with others. You might even learn a thing or two about your daughter!
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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