First of all, a confession. I am a shoemaker and my children have no shoes.
I’ve been working in the Internet since 1996, but my daughter, at 11, is clearly the last one in her class to get an email. Opening that Pandora’s Box is something that I push off month to month, day to day, hour to hour. Now, at long last, a teacher is requiring that all six graders have an email. It’s almost Halloween and we have not yet bowed down to the edict.
If you’re scared of email for your kids, there are surprisingly few resources. If you want them to play more games, there are a million walled gardens all willing to take your money. There are lots of filters for internet use, Net Nanny and Apple’s built-in parental controls among them. And, there are plenty of kiddy email sites that allow your infant a happy place to click on lots of letters without messing up the computer too much, and these progress up to age 8, 9, or maybe 10. But if you have waited until your daughter is almost 12 to give her an email, she will cry, as mine did, when you suggest she go to a site called Zilladog to access her email.
So, it’s a sorry state, but we’ll likely get her a Gmail account and monitor it ourselves until she is a bit older. I’m not overjoyed by this, but my baby is growing up.
Still, there are some parental tasks left to do, and first among them is choosing a screen name. There is nothing I could find online on this, except for one thin forum post on choosing a screen name. So here is what I’ve come up with as a guideline for my daughter:
1. No real names. She can use a nickname or some random word, but nothing that identifies her personally.
2. No ID that she’s a girl. So no email@example.com. This doesn’t surprise her at all for some reason and I’m happy I don’t have to explain why I’m being careful.
3. No years, like her birth year or the current year so that she isn’t marked by a certain era. Plus adding 123 after your chosen name is so AOL circa 1999.
Unfortunately, with over 2 billion internet users (Nielsen March 2011) and who knows how many on gmail, almost any combo of words is already taken until you get into phrases that are out of common usage.
Still, the rules are in place and we may have to keep searching a bit together. Otherwise, she can start using her new email : firstname.lastname@example.org as early as tonight.