Monday, 14 March 2011

Email / Gmail for kids

My child #1 is a 7yo in Grade 2 and the class is currently learning how to use email, on an internal school system, which means they can't send/receive email outside of that network. According to a 2009 Optus Family Communication Survey, over half (55%) of Australian children outsmart their parents in technology knowledge by the time they are 13 years old. Being the sort of geek I am, I set up Gmail accounts for my kids when they were young (so I could get good usernames!). So last weekend I decided to teach #1  how to use Gmail, and thought I'd share my setup process for anybody else that may be interested.

I chose Gmail for a number of reasons:
  1. I use Gmail, and like to think I understand it.
  2. I believe it's better to give kids tools and teach them to use them properly and safely, and supervise them - rather than locking everything down and giving them a challenge you don't want them to try to beat!
  3. In my experience, Gmail's spam filters are pretty good, and very few spam emails get through.
  4. It allows me to set up a POP/IMAP download into my own email. This means that I receive a copy of every email that is sent/received from the account.
  5. It allows me to authorise #1's account within my own, so I can access it at any time.
Here's how I set it up.
  1. First, follow Gmail's standard sign-up process to create a new account.* (If you haven't already created an account like I did, you may like to do this with your child so they feel like they have some input in the process.) Think about an appropriate username for a kid, something they can remember but also something that they can potentially keep forever. A childhood nickhame may not be appreciated when said child becomes a teen, and a surname may change. Initials are good, or a first name with some numbers. I don't recommend using a surname in an email address - it's easy enough to add this information in the "Last Name" field if you really want it on display. There's no rule that says you HAVE to give these big corporations all of the information that they demand. **
  2. Once the account is setup, log into it and click on Settings.
  3. On the General tab - Browser connection - set this to Always use https. This is more secure, but if you have trouble accessing Gmail from your browser you may need to go back and turn this off.
  4. Labels tab - I hide Chat because I'd prefer #1 didn't use it at this stage. I show Inbox, Sent Mail, Drafts, All Mail, Spam and Bin and hide the rest.
  5. Accounts and Import tab. Assuming that you have your own Gmail account, under Grant access to your account you can add your own email address here. You may need to click on an email link to confirm this. The next time you log into Gmail online your email address at the top-right of screen will be a link, and clicking on the dropdown arrow beside it allows you to view your child's account.
  6. Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab - ensure that POP is enabled. (If you prefer to use IMAP, ensure that that is enabled instead.) This allows you to configure your child's email account within your own email application (such as Outlook, Eudora or Entourage). Click here for instructions on how to setup POP or IMAP for Gmail within common email applications. Make sure that you look for an option like Leave a copy of messages on the server within your email application account settings, and enable it - this means that if your email application downloads the email before your child gets a chance to, it will still be there for them. (If you are familiar with Rules or Filters within your email application, you may also like to create a rule/filter to move your child's email to a separate folder).
  7. Chat tab (just in case your child does find it and starts using it) - click on Save chat history, and set Auto-add suggested contacts to Only allow people that I've explicitly approved to chat with me and see when I'm online.
  8. Web Clips tab - turn it off.
  9. Don't tick any of the options for Google+, Buzz or anything else that links the email account to anything else resembling social media.
  10. Lastly, on the Themes tab - let your child choose the look they want.
Once Gmail is setup, it's time to add some Contacts. At the top left of the screen are 3 tabs - Mail, Contacts and Tasks.  Click on Contacts. A new button will appear - New contact. Setup yourself as a Contact, and anybody else you are happy for your child to exchange emails with. Initially I setup parents and grandparents only, and only demonstrated how to send an email to a Contact.

Then it's time to show them how to use it! Gmail is fairly simple:
  1. Click on the Compose mail button
  2. Hit the first letter of the Contact you are sending to and when the suggested name pops up underneath, click on it.
  3. Type in a Subject.
  4. Type in a message.
  5. Click on Send.
I fully expect that #1 will eventually figure out how to access the Settings and change things, and send email to people other than those on the Contacts list. But for now we are just happy and a little bit proud, to be allowed to use something so "grown-up", even if only when Mum is there. #1 also understands that I can access the account, that I get copies of all messages and that any misuse may result in losing the account.

For more information about kids and the Internet, please visit, a site I created for a school assignment last year.

* January 2013 - Please note, Gmail will now actively prevent you from creating an account if the date-of-birth you enter is under 13 years of age. Yes, the entire world is subject to the whims of the United States government's nanny-state COPPA law. Never mind if parents WANT to take responsibility for their own children online. Never mind that many 12 year olds are more competent using a computer than a lot of adults I know. Anyway... just so you know.
** I know of many people who choose to provide a different date-of-birth, for instance, on social media, in the interests of avoiding identity theft. Just saying.


  1. I think this is an awesome idea, Nicky. I don't have kids, but I never thought of doing something like this should I ever have them in the future! I learned to use email when I was about 12 or 13 years old through trial-and-error. Very few of my friends had email accounts so it was mainly just spam and mailing list content that came through. Now days, though, I think it's so much more important that we teach kids to use this technology when they're young - just like how we were taught to use telephones, or even to work basic household appliances. Great work!

  2. Very helpful, thanks Nicky!

  3. Very interesting. I agree with the comment above.


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