Protecting children when they are online can be a daunting and difficult task. In truth, the safest child is the offline child; however, that is also an unacceptable solution (especially when you consider the fact that you’re reading a post about secure email for children).
One of the activities my daughter loves to do is to send emails to her friends and relatives. However, email is also the most common source of unsolicited communication on the internet (hence why many mail services provide spam filtering and the like). We knew we needed an email solution that:
- we could secure
- we could monitor remotely
- was compatible with most mail clients (in our case, the Mail.app in iOS)
How to Create a Child Safe Email Account…
After some investigation, and relying on past experiences, we settled on Windows Mail, also referred to as outlook.com (and formerly known as Hotmail). Depending on your preferences, you can either create an email address in the outlook.com domain or the hotmail.com domain (as of this writing, they are no longer accepting new emails in the live.com or live.ca domain).
When creating an email address for a child, it is best to use something that cannot be easily traced back to them. You can choose a favourite book (potterfan123) or music group (u2rules) or even a strongly held opinion (bieberhasnotalent); just about anything other than firstname.lastname will do. Once you have the username, you will need to create a password. Choosing a secure password could be a post unto itself, but the basic rules I recommend are:
- be at least 12 characters in length
- contain a combination of letters and numbers
- use a random uppercase character someplace other than the beginning
- consider using a special character such as ! @ # $ or %
The remaining information should also be filled out with a little caution. Obviously, do not use their actual first and last names (we used a derivative from their email username – for example, Potter Fan or U2 Rules), and while the country is OK (Microsoft will know where you are, so there’s no point in hiding that) maybe consider changing the postal code. As for age, we use a different birthday, but within the same year.
Now that you have the account, it is time to secure it. Believe it or not, this is the easiest part. Login to the account and click the gear icon in the upper right of the page, then select Options from the menu that appears. In the second column of the list of options is a section called Preventing junk mail; click Filters and reporting under that. On this page, you want the following selections (click Save when done):
- Choose a junk email filter = Exclusive
- Report junk email = either option; personal choice
- Block content from unknown senders = Block
At this point, the email account is totally secure. Not even you (their parent or guardian) will be able to reach them. Of course, this makes for a useless email account.
At the top left you will see the Outlook logo, and beside that is an arrow pointing down. Click that arrow, and then click People from the menu. This will display the Contacts list for the account (at this point it is likely empty). At the top, there will be a link that says “+ New” – click that. Enter an email address and a name (first is all you need, and for most contacts, that is all you should include; if the child knows this person by a specific name – say Nana or Uncle Joe – then put that) and click Save when you are finished. Repeat this step for every person your child will exchange email with. (Yes, this is time consuming, but it is far easier than proof-reading your child’s inbox before every email session.)
Now, the only emails your child will receive are from those addresses in his or her contacts list, and Microsoft services (hey, the system isn’t perfect, but we can make it). Unfortunately, you cannot know what addresses they will use until they use it, so just have your child notify you if something “different” shows up.
When it does, open the web interface (i.e. login to their email using a browser instead of the mail client they may otherwise use), and open the offending email. Copy the address, and then click the gear icon in the upper right, then select Options from the menu that appears, then look under Preventing junk mail and click Safe and blocked senders. In there, click Blocked senders. Now paste the email address you no longer want to reach your child into the Blocked email address or domain: field, then click Add to list. That email should no longer reach your child’s inbox.
Moving forward, you may have to revisit these instructions to add a new contact (say when your child makes a new friend) or block a new sender (if a specific Microsoft service starts blasting “notifications”), but otherwise your child will only receive email from those in the contacts list.
What precautions do you take in protecting children when they are online?
Does your child have a Child Safe Email Account?
This post was written by my hubby! He says he is “A husband, a father, and an engineer. In that order.”