A company called Tocomail earlier this year launched a mobile application designed to be kids’ first email service, built with the parental controls and protections such an app would require, while allowing kids to write simple messages and send drawings to pre-approved family and friends. Now Tocomail is targeting a slightly older crowd with the debut of another app called Tocomail for Gmail, aimed at teens.
The new app is very much a repurposing of the technology Tocomail had already developed, but instead of providing its own email-like service it is instead functioning as a Gmail client.
Similar to the earlier product for kids, the new application allows users to send and receive messages in a simplified interface, and even includes the same drawing board which is now accessible from the “attachment” icon in the Compose screen. Here, you can choose add photos from your Camera or Gallery, or make your own drawings.
However, unlike the product for the tiny tots, the Gmail client includes an instant messenger too, allowing teens to chat back-and-forth with their friends and family.
Most importantly, however, are Tocomail’s parental controls. Effectively, the app is offering a way for parents to allow their children to have a real Gmail account while still having some oversight and control over their activity and communications.
These controls–an optional $9.99 in-app purchase–are the app’s biggest selling point, or at least that’s Tocomail’s hope given the price point.
Parents have the ability to control the child’s contacts list through categories including “Safe,” “General,” and “Blocked” categories of contacts. When Parental Controls are switched on, any communication outside of the “Safe” list will only happen after the parent views and approves the email message.
Presumably, a parent would add other family members or close family friends to the Safe list. Meanwhile, parents are able to supervise the other two lists of contacts.
Messages are reviewed by parents in the quarantine box, which is where messages sit until they receive the “okay” to be sent.
Since Gmail is restricted to those 13 and older in most parts of the world, including the U.S., Tocomail for Gmail is aimed at this 13-18 year-old crowd. At the low-end of that age range, the app makes more sense, since its interface comes across as a bit more cutesy and juvenile than I’d expect an app for teens to resemble. Granted, teens are not too picky about an app’s look – take, for example, popular apps like YikYak and Snapchat, both which began with very rough, unpolished user interfaces before steadily being upgraded.
Keeping Kids Safe On Mobile
Tocomail for Gmail could be a functional solution for proactive parents who are more restrictive when it comes to what their child is capable of doing – and which apps they’re using – on the iPhone. But if the child has his or her own iTunes account and the device’s parental controls are off, there are literally hundreds of ways a child could message their friends.
I’d imagine that kids would simply self-police themselves while using this app because they know mom or dad is reading their emails, while coming up with alternative means to chat more privately outside of parents’ knowledge.
In other words, protective parents should think of Tocomail as not a solution in and of itself, but another piece in a larger suite of tools they use to keep their children safe while on mobile.
A cell phone is not a device that should just be haphazardly handed over to a child. The process of giving a child their first smartphone should begin with parents configuring the on-device parental controls, having kids sign and discuss their “cell phone contract” (your rules for how the phone is to be used), and parents should pre-install any monitoring apps they want their household to use, whether that’s a family locator like Life360 or a locator, messaging and social media monitoring solution like Mammabear.
Once the phone is in the child’s hands, ongoing monitoring is crucial, including with the above-mentioned apps or something similar, as well as with app-monitoring services like AppCertain to keep track of what kids are installing on their phones.
If you decide to include TocoMail for Gmail as part of your digital parenting suite, the app is a free download here.