There's Always One...


The twins each have their own computer. Several months ago I hooked these up to our home LAN, and the kids have been enjoying playing games on several websites. I installed squid onto my gateway to restrict the sites the kids could visit. This has worked out pretty well.

Not long after they got connected, they started asking about email. I fended these questions off for quite some time. I simply wasn’t ready to tackle the issue, or commit the time to educate them on “safe” email habits. The kids kept deviling, and soon grandma joined the debate on their side, so I had to do something.

After some research, I implemented a solution and shared my efforts with the community: A child-safe SMTP whitelist with Postfix and MySQL

The first comment to my article was a friendly “me too!” stating that a similar solution was possible with a different set of tools. I think that’s awesome! After all, one of the mottos of this free software movement is that there’s more than one way to do it! The more we share our solutions, the stronger each solution becomes.

The second comment was, unfortunately, totally expected. It seems that every time any sort of “child safety” technology discussion comes up, there’s always someone who makes sweeping accusations against the technology implementor(s) and their parenting skills. Granted, this particular comment wasn’t inflammatory, but I think it did make a pretty big logical leap:

How do you think do your kids learn this? By being blocked out from the world?

I posted this reply:

No, I don’t think I’ll be able to “firewall” every aspect of my kids’ lives; nor do I have any intention to do so. I find it extremely interesting that such a conclusion could be drawn from this HOWTO.

As a parent, it is my obligation to make value judgements about my kids well-being until such time as they’re able to make them on their own. I wouldn’t let strangers talk to my kids on the phone. I wouldn’t let strangers come to my house to talk to my kids. Why would I let strangers send email to my kids?

I don’t let my kids ride a bicyle without a helmet. Educating is a very important component of everything a parent does; but a responsible parent should take the time to put up appropriate safety mechanisms to help their children learn as safely and effectively as possible for that child. Every kid has different needs and different styles. What works for my kids might not work for your kids.

This article simply demonstrates one way to create a safe, controlled introductory environment to email for my kids. If it helps someone else then that’s great! If it doesn’t help you, that’s okay, too. The great thing about parenting is that there’s more than one way to do it.

Teaching my kids how to use email appropriately and effectively was not the topic of my article; it’s a whole seperate topic unto itself, and certainly worthy of effort. I’m sure a lot of parents, geek or otherwise, would find value in such a piece. I suppose it’s valid to remind parents that talking to their kids is as important as firewalling them from danger, but the tone of this comment struck me as accusatory, rather than constructive.

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