March 11, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
One day last week Nine got into the car after school with frustration simmering on her face. I went through my after-school litany of questions about how her day was and whether she had any homework, whether she ate her lunch and whether anything interesting happened during the day. She gave me her answers, also part of our routine. Within minutes, though, she made clear what bothered her so much.
“So there’s this website called Tinkercad where you can design stuff, and I tried to sign up for an account and it didn’t work.”
The tension ratcheted up half a notch, but I didn’t address that part of it.
“Well, maybe kids can’t sign up on their own,” I said.
“Then why was N. able to sign up?”
I couldn’t answer that one, and Nine barreled ahead.
“I did everything I was supposed to,” she said. “I put in a user name and password, and then I used D.’s email address because she said I could, and nothing.”
We’d moved up to the next notch.
“Why were you using D.’s email address?” I asked.
“Because they were asking for a parent’s email address, and I didn’t think you’d let me.”
“How would you know?” I asked, fighting the urge to get upset. On the surface it would look like she was deliberately going behind my back to accomplish what she wanted, but she wouldn’t see it that way.
“I just thought you wouldn’t,” she said, her words slowing in speed and force.
I kept my voice even as I explained to her that she if she wanted to do something she needed to ask permission. When it came to the internet or anything else, I said, her father and I would do everything within our power to make the best decision for her and her younger sister. If either of them ever wanted something, they needed to check with us first. Asking first didn’t mean they would get what they requested, but it would absolutely, always, mean we would consider that request carefully.
Her frustration remained, but she managed to control it. She redirected it back to the fact that her friend, N., could use the computer next to her at school and sign up for a TinkerCad account. Nine’s computer didn’t respond. It just sat there, she said.
I told her that we could spend some time later that afternoon working on it together, reiterating the fact that she needed to keep in mind what I’d explained about using other people’s email addresses. She said she understood, but she admitted it begrudgingly.
A couple of hours later, Nine came to me when she saw I had paused during cooking dinner. She asked if we could sit down at the computer and figure out how to sign up for an account on TinkerCad.
“Um…okay,” I said, wondering how this would work out. I trusted what she said about TinkerCad, but the fact that she had tried to use someone else’s email address without permission to sign up for the site still rankled.
She opened the website, and after exploring it for a few minutes I went to the FAQs. I discovered two things. The first was that she probably couldn’t sign up for the site from the school computer because that particular computer had had cookies enabled; the second was that if she wanted an account on TinkerCad she needed her own email address.
“Oh,” she said, and she looked more calm. She had answers…and all of a sudden, she also faced a new possibility.
Her own email address.
I also faced another possibility: hoping something on the stove would suddenly go up in flames so that I could sidestep the issue. Unfortunately our dinner kept puttering along at an even pace, and I had to hem and haw when Nine asked if she could get email.
Now, in full disclosure, a month or two ago I had spent some time doing research on email for kids. My husband and I had discussed it at the time, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to spend a little bit of time looking into the options. I found one that I thought looked like a viable, safe option and tucked the information in the back of my mind for the future.
Of course, I thought the future would be 10 or 15 years from now. Silly me. The future is already here.
I talked to my husband about it, and after a few minutes we decided that maybe we needed to use this as a teaching tool. Technology is ingrained in our culture and our lives and if we empowered our children from home, maybe we could teach them to be responsible and help them stay safe.
Funny enough, since signing up for her own email address Nine has forgotten about TinkerCad. She’s thrilled to come home every day and check her email to see whether her grandparents or aunts have written to her. I didn’t know that what started as a lesson in keeping communication and permission open would turn into another stepping stone for our elder child.
My daughters truly never cease to amaze me.