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How to help your parent set up an email address

How to help your parent set up an email addressKerry Butters, editor for BroadbandGenie.co.uk, shares how to navigate the pleasures and pitfalls of creating an email account for your parent while keeping their passwords safe.

Not everyone finds the internet easy to understand, or use. Most of us know just how important having an email account can be both personally and professionally but for parents who’re perhaps not as internet savvy as they’d like an email account may be the next step in getting their lives online.

Online shopping, keeping in touch with family and signing up to BBC Radio 4 or National Trust newsletters will all need an email address. If your parent or elderly relative finds internet jargon alien or just feels all at sea when it comes to picking an email provider, here is a guide to help you help them.

Why not print this off for your parents to use as a guideline? Or go through it with them yourself to make sure you’ve remembered to tell them everything they’ll need to know.

Picking a provider

First your parent needs to choose an email provider. Quite simply, an email provider is an organisation that allows you to send, receive, accept and store emails. There are many free services to choose from such as Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook but essentially they each offer the same service.

If your parent wants an email account just to email family members it’s best to stick with a simple account such as those listed above, but if they want to branch out and use it to join various online shops, sign up to Facebook or even Twitter - Gmail may be a better option.

Gmail is fast becoming more integrated with social media sites which may help to introduce your parent to new ways of connecting with people. It’s certainly the most contemporary provider with a vast range of options and preferences that your parent can customise although you may want to be around when they click or unclick certain features as it can get confusing with so much choice.

Username and personal details

Once your parent has picked their preferred provider they’ll have to sign up via their website. Here they’ll be asked for some specific information.

Let your parent type their name into the sign-up form as well as their chosen username. This is when it can get tricky as usernames are based on availability not just what your parent would like their name to be. Adding numbers or punctuation to your parent’s desired username can help to find an available version.

Memorability is the most important thing when it comes to choosing a username otherwise the inevitable account lock-out and password reset will follow. It might be a good idea to get your parent to write down their username and store it by the computer or in a safe place so that should they forget it, it’s is easily retrieved – nothing like trusty pen and paper!

After your parent has chosen a username they may have to provide other information such as their phone number, address or date of birth. They might not wish to disclose their private details just to set up an email account so you may have to search for a provider who requires minimal input of information. Sometimes these fields in the sign up form are optional and don’t have to be filled in in order to complete the set up so make sure to check for your parent.


Your parent then needs to choose a password that’s easily remembered. If they need help coming up with one try this resource, which gives suggestions on how to develop a strong password.

It’s important to have a secure email account, so make sure that their password isn’t easily guessed (yes, sadly people do still use 123456 or ‘password’ – not advisable). If they’re receiving emails from their bank, for example, it’s essential that their private information is safe. For most email accounts there’s usually a password strength metre on the email provider’s website so your parent can see how strong their password is prior to confirming it.

There have been many reports recently about the Heartbleed bug and the damage it can do with our personal information. Make sure your parent’s vigilant of online security scares and remind them to change their passwords if they suspect their account’s been breached.

Security Questions

It happens to everyone. Things get forgotten. Email providers are aware of this so they often require a security question relating to your parent’s chosen password or even a separate question that pertains to a piece of information only your parent could know like their mother’s maiden name or the name of the street they grew up on.

This works essentially as a password reminder or as another way to get into their account if they forget their password. There’s usually a drop down menu of potential questions your parent can pick from however if none of these suit sometimes there’s an option to pen your own.


You and your parent should be near the end of the sign up process now, almost finished. Lots of sites require verification that you’re human by the type of information you provide them. Usually they’ll ask you to type in a word, number sequence or jumble of capital and lowercase letters. If your parent finds this format difficult to read they can click the handicapped icon to hear them or alternatively they can try another set of letters by clicking the refresh button.

The finishing line

While the T&Cs can seem tedious it’s always worthwhile to have a read through before clicking ‘Accept’. Once you parent has accepted they can log into their new email account and explore the inbox. If they need help sending their first email or adding contacts from their address book or computer be on hand to steer them in the right direction. For parents who are, or were, avid letter writers they should get to grips with sending virtual letters fairly quickly.

Staying safe online

Make sure that they have antivirus software installed and advise them on malware and how phishing works, what to look out for and so on. It’s important that they’re aware of the latter, so introduce them to sites such as Hoax Slayer and Snopes so that they have somewhere to read up on internet security and common scams.

Adding their email account to Microsoft Outlook

For parents who have a PC or laptop of their own they may prefer to access their emails through a programme like Outlook which sits on their computer and is easily opened every morning. It could also be beneficial for those with multiple email accounts and logins – simplifying the process of checking their various inboxes.

And that’s it. The email account is all ready to use online. Follow this simple guide and help your parents get connected to the World Wide Web.

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