The Third Grade Email Dilemma

Last week our oldest child came home from school and proudly announced that he had a Gmail account and wanted to email his friend. This announcement took me and Marathon Girl by surprise. Email? In third grade? I assumed this day would come but I thought it would be something I’d be dealing with in toward the end of elementary school—not at the close of third grade.

Curious to see what was going on, I logged into my laptop and the next thing I know he’s typing in a username and password and there’s an inbox full of email messages from him and his friends have sent over the last couple of days. Then he proceeded to show me that he could email any student in the school district. He typed in the name of a girl who lived next door to us before we moved. Her name came on the screen and he typed her a quick message and clicked Send.

“I don’t know how I feel about you having a Gmail account,” I said.

“It’s not a regular Gmail, dad,” he replied. “It’s a school account that works with Gmail. It’s totally safe. The block out the bad stuff.”

Turns out the kid was right—well mostly right, anyway. After doing a little research I learned that the school district, starting in the third grade, gives kids in their own district email account that is run through Gmail. And apparently they do have decent safety standards because I tried to sending him test emails from work and other email accounts and all were bounced back as being undeliverable. Still, nothing is ever 100% secure in the online world. I work for a company sells computer security software to businesses. It’s a great product but I’m also well aware of the limitations that such products have.

So we’re letting him use email—for now. We really don’t want to discourage him (or any of our other kids) from learning computer technology or using email—especially where our oldest has such a gift for learning anything related to computers, smartphones, and tablets. The challenge is to find the balance between letting him learn and keeping him safe from all the online garbage out there. We have basic computer rules at home (Mom and Dad have access to everything they do online, the computer is a public space, no interactions with strangers, etc.) but now we’re going to have to incorporate some email rules too.

My only real complaint about the email incident has to do with the school district. It would have been nice to be notified that our kid would be getting an email address before he got one so we could have talked about email safety and rules ahead of the game.

Even though I’m a technical person, I always figured keeping up with my kids and new technology would be a challenge. Thankfully, I got an early reminder that it’s time to up my game.