When should your child start emailing?

Sep 18, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. ET

You feel like you've just wrapped your head around the fact that your child has a cell phone and texts on it incessantly. But now she wants an email address too (and not one that she has to share with you). So the question is: Is it time?

If you're looking for an expert to tell you that there is one magical age when a child is ready to have an email address, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. Because although it might be the norm for a child to be in middle school when she first gets an email address, most experts agree that the age when you first let your child get an "@" can only be determined by you.

For Bethany Stephens, mother of two, that age is 9.

Like it or not, your child is part of the digital age

Teach your child to be safe

Kim Estes, founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids wants parents to consider these factors when they decide to allow their child to get an email address:

  • Their first email account should be open (as in Mom or Dad can open it up at anytime). Parents should also have the password, as kids are notorious for forgetting them.
  • Any online communication has the potential for danger but the use of chat rooms and IM poses more risk than a traditional email account.
  • Most kids are actually not using email accounts anymore to connect with friends — texting and Facebook messaging have begun replacing this.
  • If you have real concerns about what your child is using their email account for, you can use monitoring software and filters.

Stephens says her oldest daughter, a 9-year-old third grader, just got her first email address this week. "She's part of the digital age and I'd rather teach her about managing and understanding online resources than preventing her from having access."

But Stephens is also being cautious. "Her email address won't be available to anyone she chooses; it will be provided to only a select few (less than 10) family members and friends. For now, all incoming mail will copy into my inbox for security."

5 reasons why your kids should have a cell phone >>

You can get an email address (and even a Twitter handle) for a 2-year-old...

If you're social-media savvy and want your child to be as well (when she's ready, of course!) you might choose to go the same route as Tiffany Markman. "When my daughter was born, I immediately bought the global and local domains for her name. I also created a Twitter account, a gmail account and a few other important bits."

"She's not even 2, but already she's kitted out for the world of digital communication. However, I won't let her use any of these things — including her own Facebook profile — before she's clearly mature enough to understand the etiquette, the dangers, the responsibility and basic time management. I have no idea when that'll be (I imagine it depends largely on the child), but I'm not expecting to have this negotiation much before age 12 or so."

Facebook and kids: How young is too young? >>

Sometimes there are special circumstances

You might have decided long ago that your child would not have an email address until she reached a certain age. But now, you might be divorced, living far from a family member or in another situation where her ability to email would be beneficial. And you might just choose to rethink your "email policy."

Author and single mom expert, Kerri Zane reminds parents that sometimes there are family circumstances that might make it beneficial for a child to have email. "Particularly for single moms with difficult former spouses, oftentimes texting or email is the only way to connect with your child when he or she is in the other parent's custody," says Zane.

Read more about technology and your kids

Mom vs. Dad: Technology and your kids
Your kid's first computer: What to look for
Digital parenting: How to keep kids safe online