A parent's guide to safe, simple kid-friendly e-mail

The Internet can be a dangerous place for children, but it's an increasingly necessary evil. Here's how to set up e-mail for your young'uns while maintaining parental control.

When it comes to children and the Internet, most parents focus on safe Web browsing. That's understandable, given that the Web can sometimes seem like one big Red Light District. But the Web isn't the only source of objectionable material online. E-mail can be just as bad.

Surely, you say, there must be a simple way to let kids exchange messages with family members and friends while protecting them from online predators, crude spam, phishing messages, and the like. In other words, if there's a NetNanny, there must be a "MailNanny" too, right? Well, not really. But this quick guide will help you pick the most age-appropriate e-mail setup and give you tips to keep the deluge of online indecency from reaching your little ones.

Anybody familiar with Gmail knows that it does a pretty good job of blocking spam and viruses, so why not just create a new account for your teen or tween? You could, but Gmail's browser-based interface isn't exactly kid-friendly. Plus, it offers no parental controls, such as the highly desirable option of creating an approved-senders list (grandma, yes; chunkylover53@aol.com, no). Some creative Boolean filtering might do the trick, but who has the time (or degree in computer science) for all that?

As a busy parent, I certainly don't have that kind of time, which is why I'm test-driving three other options: AOL, Windows Live Mail, and a service called ZooBuh. Each lets you set up individual accounts for your kids and helps enforce various usage restrictions, such as who they can e-mail and who can e-mail them. Here's what you need to know about all three.

Kids + AOL = KOL

Cross AOL's longstanding free e-mail service with a child-oriented Web portal, and what do you get? KOL, which offers not only games, music, movies, and other stuff aimed at teens and tweens, but also free e-mail accounts with robust parental controls.

153381-AOLCreateChildAccount_original

To take advantage of them, you'll first need an AOL account of your own. If you don't already have one, head to AOL.com, click Free Mail, and follow the instructions. From there, visit AOL Parental Controls and click the appropriate age group--Kid, Teen, or Mature Teen--for your child. Next, click Create Account, and then fill out the form requesting your child's name, desired screen name, and password.

AOL has several bazillion screen names already in use, so you'll have to choose something unusual or nonsensical--always a good idea anyway, as a child's screen name shouldn't contain any personal information. As for the password, make it something easy for your child to remember, but still robust enough to thwart hackers. For example, insert numbers between the letters of your child's name, as in "s1a2r3a4h5".

Once you've completed the sign-up process, you'll have to download and install AOL's Windows-only Parental Controls software. With that step done, return to the Parental Controls Web site, where you'll see a green Settings area for your accounts. Click the Edit button next to your child's account, and then scroll down to the E-mail Controls box and click Edit E-mail Settings.

153381-AOLFilter_Setup_original

By default KOL allows mail from all senders to come through to your child's account, but you can set up a filter to allow only known senders--arguably the better approach for younger kids. In the 'Spam Filters by Address' menu, choose Allow mail only from addresses I specify. Next, type the address of each person who is allowed to e-mail your child (school friends, family members), clicking Add after each one. If your little one receives a message from someone not on the list, the server will automatically delete it or route it to the Spam folder, depending on which option you select. Note that AOL also lets you block any mail containing pictures or files.

Unfortunately, AOL doesn't give you a way to block outbound e-mail. But it does give you control over instant messaging, chat rooms, and downloads, and even lets you set up connection-time limits and retrieve activity reports. Not bad, given the price tag: It's all free.

When you're done with setup, head to the KOL site and show your son or daughter how to sign in, check and send e-mail, add contacts, and so on. It's an uncluttered, easy-to-use environment, one that kids should take to in no time. And it offers the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your child's inbox will remain free of unsuitable stuff.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online safetyparenting

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Rick Broida

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?