New eras, and all that

Yesterday’s house project was “clean the office.” This was mere preparation for today’s project, “install the kids’ computer.” Cavorter did a bang-up job, and got a serviceable older desktop (running Windows 7) set up on the office table. M, having lost his computer and video privileges due to an unfortunate screen-scratching incident, does not have an account yet. But K does.

Setting up a Gmail account for a novice is more work than you might think. There are so many parts to explain . . .

What an internet form is. How to fill it out. What CAPTCHA is, and how to pass it. “Terms of Service.” “Privacy Policy.” Banner ads, targeted ads. Bookmarks. Tabbing through something. Drop-down menus. Buttons. And that’s just to get into a gmail account. Once in, there’s things like address field, headers, the body of the email, sig files, reply, forward, and address books. There’s a lot involved, just to send a one-line email to grandma.

But there it is, and she’s all set up. Later this week we’ll set up Skype.

The thing is . . . The thing is, I want K (and M, eventually,) to be able to manage their own online presence. I don’t want to have to handhold every step. Which means I want them to understand what s going on. I want the kids to be able to make good choices about their internet use and participation when they are ten, or fourteen. I want to teach them the pieces they need bit by bit, starting with “don’t click on buttons unless you know what they lead to,” and moving up to “don’t post drunk pictures of yourself to [insert future version of MySpace here.]”

Email is the first step. Here, this is spam, don’t click on it. Don’t forward things to people just because someone says to. Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know. Don’t click “yes” if the attachment says .exe, unless you know what it means. Ask a grownup if you don’t understand what the computer is telling you to do.

This is how we learn complex things. We start small, we start with something manageable. We build on it and add parts as we gain confidence. I expect that K will want a PopCap Games account pretty soon, and maybe a Flickr. In the meantime she can send emails to her family and adult friends, and start learning the lay of the land outside her front door.

Oh, and I am awarding myself some sort of parenting prize. The first site K wanted to visit on her own? The BBC News frontpage.