Kids + AOL = KOL
Cross AOL's longstanding free email 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 email accounts with robust parental controls.
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's website, 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 website, 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 'email controls' box and click 'Edit email settings'.
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 email 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 email. But it does give you control over instant messaging, chatrooms, 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 email, 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.
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