My kids are 5 and 9, and we are always trying to keep them away from all the evils the 21st century has in store. It may seem really antediluvian, but that includes PG-rated movies, Nintendo DS-style solitary video games, the wild and wooly internet, and even email. The longer we can put off the inevitable, the greater the chance that we will have an intersection of knowledge gained at the appropriate maturity level. My pulse races at what things my son and daughter might see if we didn’t work hard at this.
Some day soon my daughter is going to “require” email though, I’m sure since she has many friends whose parents are more liberal than we are when it comes to these things. Email is a great thing, and I’m tempted to give it to her today so she can write to her grandmas and aunt and uncle. But I’m also worried that it’s a Pandora’s box with some unpleasant surprises very quickly in store. I certainly don’t want to see her getting spam for low mortgage rates or black market Viagra, or worse.
There are now products though that open up email to little kids without fear. One is the Etendi BRIDGE, a product we gave our GreatDad.com Recommends seal to earlier this year. This site is subscription based and allows communication, IM and video, between a very limited number of people and was designed more for kids and faraway relatives than it is for young girls. I’ve encouraged them to consider a variation on this site for limited kids’ social networks.
Another is My Secret Circle, a USB-based device that allows your daughter (this is a “girl-oriented” product) to connect with friends in a safe and secure environment. The USB key is required to enter the website and use its functions including a personal Facebook-like page, chat/IM, email and games. Friends must have a My Secret Circle USB “key” as well to interact, and must be given a written out “Friend Code” to find each other on the site. My Secret Circle costs $19.99 on Amazon, and an extra BFF USB key is available for $10.
This product is developed for kids 8+ and is designed for this age group with appropriate messaging. Unfortunately, there is no parent supervision function, which might be problematic for two reasons. One, if the site password is ever forgotten for any reason, there is no way to retrieve it, unlike most sites that are tied to an adult’s email. Second, and more serious, is that there is no monitoring function for parents. While kids need private spaces, 8-10 year old kids are still very young to have completely private online spaces that might need to be monitored in many very easily imaginable situations.
Our favorite option right now is the magazine/website developed my New Moon Media, called NewMoonGirls.com. While this site does not have email, it does have many of the functions that My Secret Circle has like forums and IM with one key difference: it is completely monitored in the background by adults who see every word written. My daughter loves the magazine, which comes every two months.