Email School: What To Teach Kids About Email Safety, Best Practices, and Ideas To Try

Email School: What To Teach Kids About Email Safety, Best Practices, and Ideas To Try
23 May, 2024 • ... • 5032 views
Diana Kussainova
by Diana Kussainova

Email seems like the last internet thing a kid might need or want. Why have an inbox when they have no corporate communication or marketing newsletters to read? In reality, though, email is a key to other digital channels. Kids need one to register on social media, have a gaming account, access educational portals, etc. But it’s not that simple, and there is a lot you need to know before making the first email for your kid.

For this year’s Children’s Day, we invite parents to Selzy’s Email School. We’ll cover questions about safety, best practices, and interesting ideas. Plus, we asked our colleagues and their kids about their approaches to email.

Lesson. Your child’s first email: Why and when

In this section, let’s talk about the essentials of email for kids. We’ll cover security and all of the important questions each parent needs to address. 

Why does your kid may need an email address?

Your kid may not use an email address for the email itself, but it is the entryway to other internet spaces like social media, educational and gaming websites, and more. Here is a dramatic reenactment of what your kid’s experience on the web without an email could look like:

A GIF of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings movie saying “You shall not pass”
Source: Giphy

There are other more surprising use cases. For example, some frequent flyer programs also require each person to have an email address. So if you plan to use the miles your kid has accumulated while traveling, you might need to set up an email for them.

Beyond that, some kids can use email to communicate with their grandparents who don’t use social networks. In this case, an email can help them express themselves, connect them with their family, and write better. You can even write to your children yourself when they are old enough to hold long-form written conversations. Blogger Lou Imbriano uses different channels to share advice with his kids, email included. 

But tough questions and issues arise from the get-go. Though a kid needs an email to register on parent-approved websites and social media, they can also use it for something else. For example, one mother has discovered that her son created a public Instagram account to share his feelings with the whole web. There is no indication that the boy did so using an email created by his mother, but once you set up an inbox for your child, something similar might happen. When you decide whether or not your child should have an inbox, it’s important to understand the implications and set boundaries if you find it necessary.

When should your kid have an email address?

According to the US federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), kids must be 13 years or older to register their own email addresses. 

Here is a snippet explaining Gmail’s stance on the policy. Other inbox providers may apply different rules.

A list of countries and their age requirements to set up and manage a Google Account including South Korea with 14+, Germany with 16+, Venezuela with 14+, and more
Different countries can have different age requirements set up. Source: Google Account Help

However, most people believe there is no set age at which a child should have an email account of their own. 

Despite the legal reasoning, only you as a parent or guardian can decide when it’s time. You have to understand whether the kid is ready to take this responsibility. Some may arrive at it when they are 13, others — when they are older or younger. Some parents choose to create a family email first to test the waters and see whether their kid can handle the responsibility. 

Although you might want to create an email for your kid as late as possible, there is merit to allowing them to have one earlier. For example, author Liat Hughes Joshi opened an account for her son when he was five. She believes that starting early can help him safely learn to use email under her guidance. If her son had been older when she made the account, Liat Hughes Joshi argues he wouldn’t have let her monitor it and help him navigate the internet. 

An early start can also help your kid understand and master email etiquette well before they need to use it for university or professional communication. We are not children psychologists or cyber security specialists, of course, so take our recommendations as just that — suggestions but not rules set in stone. 

selzy logo
Alexander

Selzy content marketing team member

My oldest son has an email account, two or three even. 

We made them together when he decided to have a blog on YouTube. I don’t remember why exactly we made several accounts with different inbox providers. I think my son needed those to sign up for different gaming platforms. He is now 13 years old, and he had an email account for several years already.

Eliz Sena
Eliz Sena

Social Media Creator

Both of my kids have email addresses. My son is 14 and has had it since 10, and my daughter, who is 8, got her email when she was 7.

They mainly use email for school purposes, also for the Play Store.

Exercise. Creating an email account for your kid

If you decide that your kid is ready to have an email address, here is a quick how-to covering the most important (and sometimes overlooked) aspects of the process. 

Selecting an inbox provider

When it comes to an email client for your kid, you can go with the regular Gmails and Outlooks of the world or choose a dedicated provider for kids. Let’s briefly explore both of these options.

Regular inbox providers also often have parental control options: 

Gmail has a tool called “Family Link” for adult supervision of compatible devices and Google services. It allows parents to set screen time for their kids, manage their personal data and account details, and delete the account. However, it’s impossible to read a kid’s emails or messages, plus, after 13, a kid can remove supervision on their own with parents receiving a notification about it. You can also create a regular Gmail account for your kid and set up forwarding to your inbox or add a kid’s account to your own inbox to send and receive emails on their behalf. A Gmail account for a kid under 13 has no ads or automatic forwarding and is unavailable offline, amongst other features.

On the Family Link landing page, Gmail offers parents the ability to set screen time limits for their kids.

Microsoft Outlook has many of the same features in its Family Safety. It is available as part of a paid Microsoft 365 Family subscription ($9.99 a month for up to 6 people). Parents can manage kids’ data and screen time on compatible devices or Microsoft apps and Xbox and set up content filters. Beyond that, parents can only use regular email forwarding. 

On the Family safety lading page, Microsoft explains how the service can be used to develop heatlhy digital habits.

Besides these two popular options, you can also research iCloud and Zoho Mail — both provide some options for parents and their kids.

For this article, we have chosen two email services specifically for kids and their parents:

KidsEmail is a paid service catered towards parents of kids and teens with an iOS app. Using this provider, parents can create a contacts list so that only people from it can send emails or receive them from the kid. It’s also possible to restrict certain attachment types, disable links and images, and monitor incoming mail before sending it to the kid’s inbox. Eventually, the email handle can be changed from @kidsemail.org to @kmail.org when the child gets older, so that they can still keep their address without revealing that it is an email for kids. After a 30-day free trial with daily email limits, KidsEmail subscription starts at $4.95 a month for up to 4 email accounts.

A kid's inbox with a colorful background with bees and daisies
Using KidsEmail, kids can choose a theme for their inbox. Source: Real And Quirky

Tocomail is another paid service with parental control features. This provider has apps in Apple’s App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore, so it’s a good choice for kids who already use a smartphone. With the apps, parents can accept or reject emails for their kid right from the notifications. Tocomail has two email lists: a Safe list of pre-approved contacts and a supervised Monitored list that a kid can add addresses to. There is also a family chat and a simplified account interface for younger kids. After a one-week free trial, a monthly subscription costs $2.99.

A control center in Tocomail showing quarantine, spam, deleted, and rejected messages
With Tocomail, parents can preview and approve emails before their kid receives them

How do you choose an inbox provider? 

Think about your child’s digital literacy and responsibility and take into account your free time. If you’d like more control over your kid’s inbox and can monitor it regularly, opt for dedicated services. And if you only need to oversee the time your child spends on the app and are okay with simple forwarding, go with Gmail, Outlook, and the like. We suggest using a dedicated inbox for kids for children under 13 and switching to a regular email provider after that. You can also read Data Privacy Strategist Cat Coode’s post exploring the pros and cons of each option.

Naming a kid’s email address

The best idea is probably not to use the child’s full name as an email handle. Moreover, you should fill in a moniker in the name field when setting up the account and not disclose the real age of your child if it’s not necessary for setting up parental control.

You should also use an email that doesn’t include personal information like the age, phone number, or location of your kid. At the same time, try to come up with something your child will like and easily remember. Also, keep in mind that your kid may use the same address throughout school years, so choose something future-proof and maybe not something like pawpatroller1234

We suggest you work on the email handle together with your kid, though the results can be different: 

A comment on Reddit explaining that the author’s 15-year-old kid came up with an email handle and opted for hotdogpoop and some numbers
Source: Reddit

Creating and managing a password

As with any other account, you should come up with a good password and store it properly. Basic safety rules apply, of course, so:

  • Don’t use names or birthdates.
  • Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols for security.
  • Set up two-factor authentication for extra security: in this case, you will need to receive an SMS to your or your kid’s phone to reset the password and authorize logins into the account.

You can generate a safe password (which can look like a random, hardly memorable combination of letters, symbols, and numbers) and then store it in your password manager. But this way your kid probably won’t remember it and will need to go to you for each new login. We suggest you come up with a strong password your kid can actually retain.

There are many techniques to do that, here is one as an example. Come up with an easy-to-remember phrase like a lyric from your kid’s favorite song or a start of a poem. Let’s take this sentence from “The Cat in the Hat”: “Lots of good fun that is funny!” Now create a password using the first letters of each word, then add capitalization, numbers, and maybe even symbols. You will end up with something like “logFtiF325”. Your kid will more easily remember the password using the phrase you chose, plus, it will be harder to guess.

Setting up the account

When you have created an email account for your kid, you need to finish the setup. Take your time to:

  • Personalize privacy settings.
  • Set up parental control if it is possible in the tool of your choice.
  • Set up forwarding if you need to.
  • Create a list of trusted contacts (like your email address or emails of your family and kid’s friends), so it’s easy for your kid to use and restrict unauthorized communication if needed and possible.
  • Add your email as a backup for password resets, etc.
  • Set up spam filters for emails that include certain words, attachments, and more.

Plus, explore other options available in the email inbox provider you chose. 

Having “the talk”

This part is probably the most important one. You need to talk with your kid and explain how to use an email safely and what to do in various common situations.

Here are some of the topics you need to address:

  • How to identify common spam emails and what to do when your kid encounters them.
  • What phishing is and how to avoid it. 
  • Why it’s important not to share passwords or personal information with others, especially strangers.  
  • How to forward emails and send them to multiple recipients.
  • What to do if someone is being a bully.
  • How to write personal and professional (for example, school) emails.

You can use guidebooks and pointers to better explain cybersecurity and digital literacy to your kid. For example, there is a Be Internet Awesome Family guide from Google or Build & Talk activities from LEGO.

Apart from the talking part, you also need to make sure your kid trusts you and will speak to you if something out of the ordinary or uncomfortable happens. Kids can be scared of punishment for mistakes or “bad” behavior, so you should comfort them and explain that you won’t overreact and will help them with anything.

selzy logo
Alexander

Selzy content marketing team member

I try to explain email security to my son. First and foremost, I told him that he has to write down the passwords, and not on a random piece of paper. By the way, using a notes app on your phone for this isn’t a great idea either, dedicated apps for storing passwords are way more secure. I personally use Bitwarden but haven’t convinced my son to do it yet. 

We also separately discussed that passwords should not be elementary. Seems like he understood everything).

Eliz Sena
Eliz Sena

Social Media Creator

I explained that it should be used ONLY FOR SCHOOL and they can share it with classmates, as teachers already have it, and if they want to use it for another thing, they must have to ask me. I did not talk about stalkers or other kinds of online predators, because my daughter is too young to know this “black side of life” and my son already knows it due to his age, friendships, TV shows, and we talked with him when he was younger.

Monitoring

This last step isn’t as much a one-time task as it is a practice and a new part of your routine as a parent or guardian. After you set up an email account for your kid, you need to figure out a way to monitor their inbox. If you enable forwarding or use a service that offers email queues, you don’t need to do anything apart from checking your own inbox. If not, you should pick a time frame for when you need to log in to your child’s account. For example, you may want to check it once every two weeks.

For screen time monitoring, content filtering, and other parental control tools, you may need to adjust the settings on your kid’s device, in apps that have this functionality, or in dedicated apps. You may also set up network-wide controls that can affect all devices in your Wi-Fi area.

Of course, the decision whether to monitor the account or not is yours to make. Depending on the age of a child, their willingness to follow the rules, and their digital literacy, you may find that the privacy concerns outweigh the security ones or vice versa. Whatever you decide, we recommend you talk to your kid about it and inform them about the monitoring.

selzy logo
Alexander

Selzy content marketing team member

I don’t monitor my son’s inbox just as I don’t read through his communications on social media and messengers. But I do receive some of his emails. These mostly concern financial information (for example, invoices after Steam games or artifacts purchases) or changes to the account information.

It’s important to note, though, that monitoring can prevent dangerous situations and help to mitigate risks associated with having an online presence.

Eliz Sena
Eliz Sena

Social Media Creator

I have my son’s mailbox on my mobile, so I can check that in real time, and I check my daughter’s email at least twice a week.

When my son was 12, an online predator tried to approach him, but we saw it on time, blocked him and told the police. He made the first contact through an online game, pretending to be another kid, and when he gained my son’s confidence, he asked for his email and started to ask weird things.

Email worksheet: Ideas to try out

Reserve an email address with your children’s full name when they are young

It’s not a good idea to use an email address with your kid’s full legal name when they are underage and can be exposed to spammers. But you can create an account for later and simply not use it before it is needed. This way when your child needs to have an email for professional communications, they don’t need to worry about it.

A Reddit commenter explained how they got an email address with their daughter’s first and middle name shortly after she was born.
Source: Reddit

Write your kids emails into the future

If you decide to use the previous idea, you can combine it with this one. Though it’s hard to find the origin of the idea, some parents have started to write their kids emails as a way to capture everyday moments. The concept is similar to baby books of the previous generations and aims to warm letter-esque entries to one day share with the child. If you go with this one, though, don’t forget to regularly log in to this account and check the “memory inbox” so that the email clients do not remove it because of the lack of activity. 

selzy logo
Alexander

Selzy content marketing team member

I’ve been thinking more than once about how it would be great if someone created a simple and interesting course for kids on how to use email. It would have saved me time and taught my kids important things about cybersecurity and digital hygiene. Here are some examples of topics it would be helpful for kids to learn:

  • How to come up with passwords for apps and accounts?
  • Where to store passwords, PIN codes, and hints for them?
  • What is personal data?
  • What are some of the risks surrounding personal data?
  • What websites not to visit?
  • Should you always type in your email address when prompted?
  • Why shouldn’t you try to bypass the age restrictions on apps and websites?

Email finals

Email is a gateway to the internet and many digital services for both adults and kids. It’s the parents’ and guardians’ role to help children navigate email communication and their inboxes safely and responsibly. 

When you know why your kid needs an account and decide that it should happen now, follow these steps:

  1. Select an inbox provider.
  2. Name the email address.
  3. Create and safely store the password.
  4. Set up the account.
  5. Talk to your kid about security and possible challenging situations.
  6. Periodically monitor the account if you believe it is necessary.
Article by
Diana Kussainova
Writer, editor, and a nomad. Creating structured, approachable texts and helping others make their copies clearer. Learning and growing along the way. Interested in digital communications, UX writing, design. Can be spotted either in a bookshop, a local coffee place, or at Sephora. Otherwise probably traveling. Or moving yet again.
Visit Diana's

Latest Articles

Selzy Selzy Selzy Selzy