Is there a right age for a child to have their own email address?
I’m the one who rolls my eyes when friends anguish about their kids joining Facebook at 14.
“Honestly, you have to let her do this,” I lectured one girlfriend just last month when she texted for advice. “It’s legal now, all her friends are on it and part of being a parent these days is helping your kid navigate the digital world. You’re doing her no favours by trying to hold back the tide. Harden up. This is modern life.”
I’ve delivered this same speech countless times to people over text, phone and cocktails. In presentations and on TV. I’m good at it because I believe it. Kids need to learn about the internet by being online.
But only other people’s kids, apparently.
Hello Hypocrisy. My name’s Mia.
My reticence makes no sense. I live my own life in large part via a screen. It’s my work, my play, my entertainment, my lifeline. My Swiss army life-knife.
No wonder my husband was bemused by my reaction when I discovered them setting up our nine-year-old’s first email account.
“Wait! No!” They both looked up at me from the kitchen table, puzzled. “What’s the problem?” my husband asked.
“She’s too young!” I said.
In this Hey Mia video, Mia talks about the guilt mothers have about giving constant attention to their kids.
“But it’s not a social media account, it’s just email” he replied calmly, as if talking to a very old person who said things like “Interweb”.
I didn’t feel calm. I felt kind of out of control and overwhelmed by several emotions I couldn’t quite name, none of them pleasant.
My husband and daughter looked at me expectantly, waiting for some reason to change course. I dug deep. But I had nothin’.
Oh God, I thought as the words came out. Everything sounds rude.
My 18-year-old son chimed in. “Mum, that’s ridiculous. When you make up a dumb email address as a kid you just have to change it when you’re older and that’s such a hassle.”
My husband nodded. My daughter was wide-eyed, thrilled the family’s entire focus was on her and her new email address. This was a big deal. Adults had email addresses. She knew she was on yet another cusp of Growing Up.
“Also,” my son continued, “she needs to ‘get’ her name or someone else will and that’s so annoying.”
“Nobody will have her address except us,” my husband reasoned. “You’re over-reacting.”
“Me?” I shouted. “I HAVE NEVER OVER-REACTED IN MY LIFE”
I spent the next few days trying to unpack my angst around my daughter having email. Was I worried about predators? Bullies? My baby growing up too fast? All of it, everything, yes. But there was something deeper and I finally cracked it: I was worried about her being tethered to the internet in the same way I am.
I want to hold back that behaviour of constantly checking in with the outside world because once you cross that FOMO threshold you can never, ever go back. And before you know it, you’re a slave to the Quick Check.
The Quick Check is my life. The Quick Check has made me her bitch.
Which is why I’m in no hurry to give my daughter her own phone even though frankly, it would make my disorganised life so much easier. The best part of my son getting a phone was I could text him about changed pick-up arrangements in real time and he could text me when I forgot to pick him up from after-care. Parenting by mobile phone is even more effective when your kid has one too.
It’s not like my younger kids aren’t tech savvy. Is there any other way for kids to be? I once heard it’s only called “technology” if it wasn’t around when you were a kid. Our great grandparents would consider TV to be technology. And a fridge. Our kids swipe before they walk.
Still, I try to have some hard lines.
Some of my rules for my own kids include:
- No Googling unsupervised
- No You-Tubing unsupervised
- No social media accounts
- No, you can’t have your own phone
On the last two rules, we’re solid. The first two are a joke.
My technology boundaries are porous and the internet seeps through them daily.
For example: even though my daughter isn’t allowed her own phone, she’s adopted an old one of mine so she can listen to music and play apps. The other night when I went to kiss her goodnight, I noticed it on her bedside table. Just like Mum and Dad. I felt an uncomfortable twinge.
At almost ten, she’s at an age where she’s madly pushing for access into the world of adolescence and she’s hitting it from every angle.
She wants to know when she can wear make-up, have a phone, wear high heels, go to the shops by herself.
She doesn’t necessarily want to do those all things now but she wants a time frame. Girls like to plan their life stages well in advance of living them. So do women.
She hasn’t asked about Facebook and Instagram yet, but it’s moments away, I know. I find myself resisting all of it and I have to check why. Am I anxious about specific risks and dangers or just resisting the idea of her growing up and out of my control? It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two things.
My youngest son isn’t even mildly interested in getting a phone. He has announced with great certainty that he doesn’t want one until he’s 18, “because it’s just too full on”. Very astute.
Here’s what happened after my daughter got an email address:
- She started checking for emails several times a day. This made me feel sad. This made her feel important.
- We discussed who she could email. No friends. Not yet. Too fraught. But our old nanny who she misses desperately and her grandparents, aunts and uncles and big brother were all approved to go into her address book.
- She started sending me emails. This startled me at first. I didn’t recognise the name in my inbox (it’s a nickname). I quickly discovered my daughter does great email. She’s good at banter. She uses words in amusing ways. She makes me laugh. It’s opened up our relationship in the same way as when my mother learned to text.
- I started forwarding her information she needed to know like notes from school or reminders about things. This is enormously convenient. I generally like my kids to be more organised than me. I call it Darwinism. Some might call it Neglect.
So. A few weeks into this email thing, I’m giving it a cautious thumbs up. The lingering melancholy about wanting her to have more time floating free above the internet is starting to ease. I’m seeing the potential of a new way for us to communicate opening up to us both. And as she hurtles towards the tween and then teenage years (hold me), that’s got to be a good thing, right?
Last night, I launched Rebecca Sparrow’s wonderful new book of heartfelt advice for girls, Ask Me Anything. Remember Dolly Doctor? Bec is just like that, but for teen girl emotions. I bought 6 copies for every friend with a teenage girl.
What age do you think is the right age for kids to get an email address?