If there ever was a time for the chief executive to be dishonest, this might have been it: When asked at a White House event for children who had won a healthy recipe contest what his favorite food is, President Obama replied: "Broccoli."
Broccoli is no one's favorite food unless it's covered in cheese, in which case "cheese" is really your favorite food. It's not particularly flavorful, even for a vegetable. Again, even among its kin, it's kind of dull. Most critically: it triggers exactly zero of the caveman-era pleasure centers in our brain, contributing no rare and precious fat, or sugar, or salt. Ask a vegan about his or her favorite food and you'd get a more plausible answer than "broccoli." Naturally, Twitter has gone absolutely bananas with tart skepticism.
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That said, the president is a politician and a member of government, both positions that make the dispensing of absolute truth difficult, if not an outright liability. And it's plain to see the advantages of praising broccoli, particularly in these circumstances: Had he given any of the far, far more believable answers of "a Five Guys hamburger," or "chicken-fried steak," or "kringle," he'd be breaking the hearts of healthy recipe-concocting kids everywhere, not to mention undermining the First Lady's work to cultivate healthier eating habits among Americans everywhere.
More plausible but still productively dishonest answers might have included:
Any fruit – seriously, how hard would that have been? An apple, an orange, a banana – things that are good for us, and thanks to naturally occurring fructose, are also quite tasty. Go exotic and make some waves: kiwi, starfruit, even durian. In fact: try avoiding processed sugar for a week and come back to fruit with a re-sensitized palate. It's absolutely delicious!
On second thought, not durian, which smells and tastes like mango mixed with onions and the smell of feet.
Veggie burgers – a good bean-based veggie burger patty can be absolutely delicious, and you can perpetrate all manner of flummery on the bun and toppings to make it a truly balanced and healthy meal. By jamming the word "burger" into the title, you've helped sell your story, particularly to non-careful readers, which is to say a large percentage of the general public.
Sushi – Four years ago, this answer would have risked bringing down the wrath of anti-snob pseudo-populists on your head (and, indeed, some of the commentariat would still use this as an excuse to paint the chief executive as out of touch, probably just before keeping their lunch reservations at the precious little farm-to-table place downtown.) But their criticisms wouldn't resonate. Sushi is everywhere these days, and both its raw fish and vegetable-driven incarnations are light, intensely flavorful, and totally delicious. It'd be a bold move, but it could be sold.
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Vegetarian chili – The beauty of chili is that it's essentially a medium that takes on the flavor of its herbs and spices – that medium doesn't have to be greasy meat, or meat at all, and it'll still taste absolutely delicious. (I'm a personal fan of vegan taco mix for this exact reason.)
Still, if the kids asked me what my favorite food is, I'd say: "A ribeye steak from Everett's, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled medium rare over lump charcoal on my Weber in my backyard." It's true, but then again I've got the luxury of being truthful: I'm not running for anything.
As every parent knows, bedtime can make or break a night. A perfect night filled with snuggles and pillow talk can make both child and parent wish the night would never end. Other nights can leave parents feeling more like hog wranglers or hostage negotiators.
The unpredictability around bedtime can carry a degree of uncertainty and anxiety for both parents and children. Now it seems that having a varied bedtime could put kids at a disadvantage in school, according to a new study from The University College London, which links irregular bedtimes to reduced test scores in young children.
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The idea that inconsistent sleeping schedules can negatively impact children (and their families) is nothing new. Every parent knows that delayed bedtimes can lead to difficulties in the morning that can continue throughout the day.
However, establishing a consistent bedtime routine is easier said than done.
Here are a few tips for establishing a routine bringing consistency to the end of the day.
Establish a lights-out bedtime and work backward to build a routine.
If bedtime is 8:30 p.m., that means that teeth should be brushed, pajamas should be on, and stories should be finished by 8:30 p.m. By setting a lights-out time rather than a time to start to get ready for bed, parents can defer to the clock when kids ask for one more story, another drink of water, or whatever their latest stalling tactic may be.
If kids know that the lights are going to turn off on schedule, regardless of whether or not parents have read aloud from bedtime books, they will be less likely to dawdle through tasks like brushing teeth and taking a bath.
Set the stage for bedtime.
Parents can begin to set the stage for bedtime an hour or more before lights out. Parents can start talking about bedtime at dinner to make sure kids understand what activities they will have time for before bed. Turning off unnecessary lighting can help to signal kids to begin winding down. While some kids find watching TV before bed to be soothing, others can later have trouble falling asleep. Pay attention to your child's unique needs.
Make sure bedtime reading is appropriate for settling down.
Reading books to kids can be a delightful bonding experience. There are many opportunities for expanded conversations based on the themes and illustrations in the book. However, bedtime may not be the best time to have those discussions. Kids are pretty savvy and will quickly learn that initiating conversation can prolong bedtime. Try avoiding books that have activities in them, like finding hidden objects in the pictures. Remind kids that bedtime stories are for helping them to calm down rather than play. For parents of emerging readers, bedtime may not be the best time to practice reading.
Don't be afraid to disengage.
Children may not be ready to go to sleep at lights out time, especially if their body is not used to a consistent bedtime. Resist the temptation to read one more story and instead encourage kids to rest quietly on their own until they fall asleep. Suggest that they try singing softly to themselves, think about something good that happened that day, or focus on taking deep breaths. If kids really can't settle completely on their own, parents can sit in the room with them reading quietly for a set period or until the child falls asleep.
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It's not the royal baby, but it's the royal rugby baby.
"The Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips, Mr Phillip and Mrs Linda Tindall, and members of both families are delighted with the news," says an official statement from the British Monarchy's official website.
The baby will be the couple's first child and the Princess Royal's third grandchild.
As we've seen with the royal baby, expected to be in the arms of mom Kate Middleton any day now, the Brits like to incorporate royal family life into their betting schemes. Once news spread of the Tindall's baby, bookmaker Paddy Power put the odds at 8 to 1 the couple would name their kin Elizabeth or Phillip. The Tindall's baby's future is also worth something — people are actually betting whether it 5will play rugby like dad and or represent the British flag in the Olympics like mom, according to The Telegraph.
Meanwhile wagering circling around Kate Middleton and Prince Williams' baby include whether it'll be a boy or girl; whether mom or dad will the baby's future boyfriend or girlfriend's name,
A report detailing the controversial sterilization of nearly 150 female inmates in California from 2006 to 2010 has touched off intense controversy. The degree to which the procedures were medically necessary and involved freely given, well–informed consent are both active points of contention. But regardless of the facts, the act of sterilizing women prisoners inevitably provokes comment – and argument.
As it stands, the story goes to the heart not just of the modern American penchant for aggressive incarceration, but also to what it means to be human.
The sterilizations seem to indicate that the battle over womens' bodies has been taken into a new arena. As the debate over abortion rages from coast to coast and state to state (Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker just signed into law an act that requires women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound), the degree to which reproductive rights are actually "rights" per se is wavering.
The story also raises the profoundly important and often overlooked issue of prisoner dehumanization. America's penal system once struggled to balance rehabilitation, containment and punishment as objectives; fearing being seen as "soft on crime," many politicians in recent years have emphasized punishment to the near–exclusion of education and other rehabilitative goals. In California in particular, the shift has been accelerated by an independent, "tough on crime" prisoner guards' union that has managed to turn a high incarceration rate into thousands of well–paid jobs (and dues–paying members).
Perhaps most troubling, the California allegations call up the specter of eugenics – the idea that some lives are, quite literally, worth more than others and that selective breeding can encourage "good" traits and diminish "bad" ones.
Commenting on the roughly $150,000 spent on sterilizations from 1997 to 2010, one of the doctors at the heart of the story suggested that the money was a wise investment. "Over a 10–year period, that isn't a huge amount of money," [Valley State prison OB–GYN James] Heinrich said in The Center for Investigative Reporting story about the operations, "compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more."
Or, to boil that down: the potential children of these women would be worth more to society if they never existed.
The urge to quantify the value of humans – through IQ, through economic activity, through racial heritage – is historically irresistible. But after an early 20th–century love affair with eugenics blossomed, in part, into the moral barbarism of Nazi Germany, we have collectively gotten cautious about assigning worth to human lives and then punishing or rewarding people as a result.
That's a good thing. Crawl through message boards discussing the story (as I did) and you don't even need to scratch the surface to find a "prisoners are subhuman" note to the discussion: That brand of commentary is the surface.
"Good. Drains on society," wrote one commenter. "Hard to get all outragey considering they agreed to it," said another, who seemed to miss the contention about potentially coerced sterilizations that was at the heart of the story. About a mother who was in prison for car theft, a commenter wrote: "She is a bad mother....bet dollars to doughnuts she's on Welfare."
Lost in the swirl of emotion and condemnation are two simple ideas: equality under the law, and the potential for every human being – even and perhaps especially prisoners – to better themselves and make a better life.
Keeping within the spirit of this post over on Disney's Babble site that exhaustively justifies why Mommy refers to herself in the third person, (this particular) Daddy takes a crack at why he doesn't feel quite as comfortable following suit. Daddy further addresses why the annoyance of non-parents is actually something he still relates to, at least for the time being.
The gist of Allana Harkin's post goes a little something like this: You non-parents have no idea how difficult it is to have your regular routines and, therefore, personalities eviscerated by the all-consuming ordeal of parenting, and therefore if we constantly refer to ourselves in the third person and speak only of our children, our children's friends, our children's future prospects, and parenting topics in general, it should be excused by the fact that being a parent is the most important and challenging thing anyone could possibly contemplate, and the only reason you don't get that is because you don't have kids.
Daddy's take on that: nuts. From Daddy's point of view, legitimately difficult things that allow you to flout social norms (i.e., using the third person when talking to friends, talking only about yourself and/or your family, getting defensive about other people taking offense at either of those first two points) include the following: working in an emergency room; being a homicide detective or beat cop; serving just about any role in an overseas warzone; fighting forest fires. That's not an exhaustive list, but you get it – if you want to talk about challenging, crazy, rules-changing things to do, pick a career with life-and-death stakes that exposes you to constant stress.
Daddy doesn't think that being a daddy has any practical or moral equivalency to that. Daddy's opinion is that being a mom or dad is absolutely grueling and tough at times, and some allowances should be made: for example, the yard has gone unmowed for three months (whoops, sorry about that, we had a rainy spring and a baby), or Daddy often screws up the buttons on his shirt (something, we should probably note, Daddy sometimes screwed up before the birth of his beloved son).
But, (generally speaking), being a mom or a dad is a voluntary lifestyle change that is chock-a-block with really great little moments that come from welcoming a new human being into your family, moments that compensate richly for the disrupted sleep, difficulty of having a regular breakfast, and the general nuttiness of the experience. And therefore, Daddy will continue using the first person when talking to friends, as will Mommy, and we will both strive to talk about things including current events, books, pop culture, our careers, and – most critically – the lives and opinions of the people to whom we happen to be talking.
At least that's the plan. Daddy realizes that he's only 10 weeks in to his first child, and, four or five years from now, he might have devolved into some sort of grunting semi-feral proto-human. But that's not the plan. The plan is to keep it together, hang tough, and proudly be as non-irritating to fellow parents and non-parents as possible. Let's see how Daddy does with that.
As data collection and analysis develops from a crude art into a finely honed science, the ability to put a product in front of the right young eyes at the right time has gotten increasingly acute, and the pressure for a revision increasingly intense.
Particularly under the gun of the new regulations: "behavioral advertising" that tracks children based on browser history, geo-location campaigns that market based on where a child lives, and re-targeted ads that pursue children from site to site once they've engaged with the campaign.
What precisely is at stake here? Actually, a great deal – the nature of corporate marketing is to work to the edge of the rules in order to sell the most aggressively and competitively to the advantage of shareholders, a design that results in all kinds of shenanigans when left unregulated.
And when you peel back the wrapper of online and TV content and look at some of things that have been marketed to children over the years, it's both chilling and illuminating.
Junk Food: Out of context, there's nothing more sensible to pitch to kids than candy, cookies, and the latest Xtreme gaming flavor of Mountain Dew. In context, these campaigns become a seamless part of a tapestry of high fructose corn syrup-driven obesity that have made American kids among the fattest in the world.
Parents can make a huge difference in this regard, but the trick is standing up to the marketing (and sugar-craving evolutionary biology) and laying down a hard but reasonable line about what flies and what doesn't. (When I was growing up, soda and sweet cereal were banned for 51 weeks a year - and then, while on our annual weeklong vacation in Wisconsin's Door County peninsula, they were permitted again. Somehow, this totally worked.)
Violent Video Games: Take it from this former boy who grew up during the dawn of video games: if it bleeds, it succeeds.
Playing violent video games has been linked to violent behavior and bullying, but the links are weak and reputable contrary studies exist. One thing nearly everybody can agree upon, however: The games are largely a massive waste of time. Oh, and that they may prevent crime by keeping otherwise crime-prone kids and young adults off the streets. The story of wasted time is defined by what the time-waster might otherwise be doing.
Micropayments: You want terrifying? Here's terrifying. There's an increasing trend for games to be marketed at a price that is low or free, and derive income from thousands of minor in-game purchases and/or auction sales made by players. The result is a "free" game that turns into a $75/month open wound on your checking account as your son or daughter purchases in-game gear for their imaginary in-game character.
Alcohol, Guns, and Cigarettes: These three very adult products all have a vested interest in getting to the next generation as early as possible without tipping off any stick-in-the-mud parents and regulators. If you dig into these realms you'll find sweet, fruit-flavored "alcopops," colorful "my first gun" weapons, and candy cigarettes, among other gambits to pitch the under-18 (or under-21) set without triggering legal consequences. (Of course, the argument about whether access to guns at a young age tends to teach gun safety or create gun-related deaths is still viable and ongoing.)
Jarts: These top-heavy, skull-piercing lawn darts actually haven't been sold since a Consumer Product Safety Commission ban in 1988, but they're a good example of what gets marketed and sold in a low-regulation environment: They're fun, they're sporty, they're potentially lethal. Libertarians might argue that a few seriously jarted kids is a small price to pay for a free society, but that's a long argument to be had somewhere else.
Actually, it's highly unlikely that your children will be targeted by ads for lawn darts, but still – be aware. Fun but deadly.
The jokes write themselves: A celebrity (Alicia Silverstone) has tackled a problem (insufficient vegan breast milk) that is so rarefied and disconnected from the everyday American experience as to be the storytelling equivalent of self-marinating meat ... if that metaphor isn't inappropriate to the circumstances.
Silverstone's proposed solution to support breastfeeding mothers is an Internet-driven sharing system, the physical, sanitary, and legal logistics of which will no doubt boggle the mind of even an imaginative observer.
Breastfeeding is challenging – in terms of logistics and (most crucially) time, it's a grind. My wife breastfeeds while maintaining a career as a professional photographer, and there are some days when the struggle can be profound.
And eating a vegan diet is challenging – again, the logistics are daunting, and getting a healthy diet while spurning meat, milk, eggs, and sometimes even honey requires careful planning and a lot of home cooking. Trying to do them both at once – well, that's a situation where having a staff of personal assistants would really come in handy. And if both of these major lifestyle choices are important to you, it makes sense that you'd work to enable other people to follow in your footsteps.
Naturally, people are skeptical; skip down to the comments section of the Yahoo! article on this and you'll watch the Internet equivalent of a festival day mob chucking clods of dirt at the village outcast. "Yes, because the unregulated sharing of bodily fluids between random strangers on the internet is always a totally good idea..." "This is one of the dumbest things I have heard from any Hollywood mom..." "That is disgusting..." and so forth.
But how about this: Yes, there are a lot of problems inherent in the sharing of body fluids between strangers and infants. Yes, breast milk itself is a dairy product, potentially making the "vegan" aspect of all this a bit of a thought experiment. ("Well, the mothers are choosing to give their milk, so it's not the same as compelling a cow or goat to do so ...") And yes, this is a celebrity problem – for most of us, breastfeeding our own children most of the time for even the first six months of life is plenty of work and struggle, thank you very much.
But what Silverstone is striving for – a technology-based solution that will enable more people to live what she perceives as a healthy, loving, lifestyle – is motivated by a sense of love and social concern. Idealistic? Maybe. Misguided? Perhaps. But love's at the heart of this mess, and instead of scorn and mockery, it would be nice to see some gentler deconstructions of the logistics and helpful suggestions of alternative ways to allow mothers to feed their babies and themselves in ways that are healthful and nurturing.
And leave the jokes to the pros. Conan and Letterman are going to go to town on this like Derek Jeter playing a game of elementary school softball.
A 15-year-old student inventor of a new kind of flashlight is the latest in a long line of young people to catch the public imagination with the sheer ambition of her creation. Ann Makosinski, a high school junior from Canada, harnessed Peltier tiles (which generate electricity when one side is cooled and the other is heated) to make a flashlight that can run for about 20 minutes by using nothing more than human body heat. This puts her in the running for the Google Science Fair's $50,000 top prize, to be announced in September.
Inventions have captivated commentators and the general public since the era of the ancient Greeks (remember that cool ship-burning lens thing?) and Chinese (paper, anybody?), and they're doubly inspiring when young people create them - evidence that within every child there is a Leonardo da Vinci waiting to hatch.
The fine print (as there almost always is with any invention) is that Ann's flashlight doesn't work in temperatures above 50 degrees F. Think back to every time you've lost power and/or needed a flashlight, and then recall how many times it has been under 50 degrees. And then remember the similarly battery-free friction powered flashlight, already useful and brought to market. In short: it's a science-fair triumph, but probably not a cash cow.
That is, of course, at least partially beside the point. The excitement over the flashlight (which could, of course, be refined by a company or academic institution with greater resources) is that it's part of a long, ongoing story of young people creating something new and useful - in recent years alone, we've had under-18 inventors create human hair-derived solar panels, fast-acting phone chargers, and even cancer tests, among dozens of others.
The Google Science Fair initiative is meant to encourage and tap into this spirit of young creativity, and there are dozens of other contests and forums for young people who plunge into the worlds of science and industrial design - everything from local and state gatherings to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair or the London International Youth Science Forum. The key is trapping the lightning of young imagination in the bottle of demonstrable scientific principles.
What you make of this precocious innovation as a parent, of course, depends on the hopes - and/or baggage - that you bring to the story. Is it fun and encouraging? You've probably got a young kid with a world of potential or a slightly older one who has already shown a precocious flair for science and independently guided projects.
Does it induce nervousness? Perhaps you've got an early teen (or teens) and you're wondering what paths they'll take as they search for academic success, careers, and personal fulfillment.
Is it oddly depressing? Well, it may well be that your son or daughter has already cruised through high school without exhibiting so much as a flash of interest in the scientific and mathematical, and has instead decided to spend a year following a jam band from Vermont to San Francisco.
But if you're like me, and raising a three-month-old, you're just happy to stay on top of the diaper situation - angst can wait.
The first thing that went wrong was the lock on the door. It didn’t work.
Our friends S and R generously lent us their Cape Cod condo the weekend of Father’s Day. They were away and Ken was on an extended business trip. I thought that a quick outing to the Cape would nicely break up the time while he was away. We unlocked the door of the condo just fine, but locking it was another story. I leaned heavily on my technologically savvy teenagers to figure out the lock’s mechanism. No dice. None of us had a clue about how to work our friends’ door.
My first inclination was to call Ken who was a continent away. After all, the man can walk me through complicated computer problems over the telephone. But I quickly realized that, as talented as he is, even he could not figure out how to work a lock he had never seen. The kids and I did the next best thing. We called a locksmith who, five minutes and $65.00 later, showed us that all we had to do to lock the door was lift up the handle.
And then it hit me like a megaton of bricks – this is what single parents go through every day. They don’t have the luxury of calling on a partner to get them through a rough patch. I can remember the extensive debates Ken and I have had over the years about little things like low-grade fevers, sleepless babies and fussy toddlers. Tylenol or Advil? We had no idea what we were doing, but it was less scary to be in the dark together.
Here’s another thing about our weekend away – driving. I had to do all of it. Ken always does the driving while I snooze in the front seat. This time it was completely up to me to get my kids from Point A to Point B since neither of them has a driver’s license. That’s a lot of pressure on someone with a lousy sense of direction that doesn’t like to drive.
But one of the biggest things that I learned on that fateful weekend was that Anna and Adam weren’t thrilled to be so far from their friends. That’s right, I’m not their whole world anymore. Not even remotely. So I expended a lot of energy on trying to make them happy. Unfortunately, the two of them have very different ideas of happiness. One likes the beach; the other hates it. One likes the movies; the other is not so keen on sitting in a theater for two hours.
I finally ditched the kids and called Ken from a coffee shop. “They’re driving me nuts,” I said breathlessly into the phone.
“I think what they’re doing is developmentally normal,” he said. “At this stage, they don’t want to hang out with us that much.”
I knew that Ken had spoken the unvarnished truth. I even accepted that truth; it was just hard to see it in action.
By the end of the weekend we had had enough of one another. My children demanded that we leave the Cape a day early. No Monday morning departure to beat the Sunday traffic for this solo driver. They couldn’t stand to be away from home for another minute. That’s when I did something I swore that I would never do as a parent: I gave them the “You do not appreciate me” speech. I hate to admit this, but it was not the first time I’ve done that.
“I am, “ I said in my best martyr-like voice, “only as good as my last favor or the last thing that I bought for you.” Then my kids got into a row with me about how that wasn’t true as we waited to be seated for brunch. People were staring.
At the table their bottled-up resentments came tumbling out. Adam was still furious that we didn’t go to his favorite beach, missing out on eating the best onion rings on the face of the earth. Anna had passed up several invitations of a lifetime that had been sent in rapid-fire text messages throughout the time we were away together. And I took out a small loan to take them to the finest restaurants and buy them the loveliest souvenirs.
“Neither of us asked you to bring us here,” Anna said. “This was all your idea,” Adam said. That’s when I really blew a gasket. “You have no idea how much I do for you.” As soon as I said it, I heard how flat and clichéd the comment sounded. Of course, my children had no inkling of everything Ken and I do for them. How could they? They’re not parents yet.
As for me, I am humbled and awed by those parents who bring up children on their own with grace, wisdom, and the hard-won experience of figuring out how to lock a door.
Reporters and reviewers write about Minecraft as if it’s just like any other video game. Even this highly readable piece about its creator (Markus Persson, aka “Notch”) and its parent company (Mojang) by Harry McCracken in Time magazine doesn’t cover what makes it different from other games specifically for its kid (and parent) players. But he does bring out this extraordinary differentiating factor:
“No less lofty an authority than the United Nations sees Minecraft as a tool to improve human life. Last September, its U.N.-Habitat agency teamed up with Mojang to launch a program called Block by Block. It will use Minecraft to digitally reimagine 300 run-down public spaces in the next three years, giving people who live near them the chance to chime in on how they might be improved. First up: a dilapidated park in Nairobi’s business district and parts of its Kibera slum” (Kibera is home to some 1 million people – see this).
Distributed and shared safety
As for what might interest Minecraft players’ families is not only how it’s different from other video games but what it shares with all social media: distributed, collective, and/or shared safety (pick one adjective, but they all work). This game that looks like a virtual-LEGO land is literally all over the Internet and world. It’s not hosted by its so-called parent Mojang in Stockholm. It’s hosted and played on public and private servers all over the world, and it’s the ultimate example of what online safety is now and from now on in our very social media environment and connected world.
Kids under 10 host Minecraft games on their own servers, as do parents for their own kids, on laptops and family computers. So do schools I know of. Some people play the year-old Xbox 360 edition for console players. Others run adult-only Minecraft servers because they don’t want to “babysit” young players who sometimes like to be annoying and mess around with “griefing” or just ask too many questions in chat.
This is not exactly the kind of safety that can really be regulated for all by any single parent, jurisdiction, or law such as the US’s COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). Each Minecraft server has its own rules of engagement (or creation or play), its own atmosphere and mode (“survival,” “creative,” “adventure,” or “player vs. player” [PVP]). Some have more than one “world,” allowing players to choose their mode of play. Clearly, child safety in Minecraft is a shared proposition, just as it is in social media in general (because multiplayer console, online, and phone-based games are indeed social media) – shared by players themselves, server admins, families, classes, teachers, school policy, and shared with the designers of the games, apps and worlds and the conditions they create and change. More and more, online safety takes a village too.
What creating together safety can teach
Safety can also be a creative effort in game worlds. It can take some strategy, risk assessment and collaborative problem-solving, and maintaining it can develop resilience and social literacy.
And parents, I think you’ll love this: To Minecraft players themselves, “safe” means many things and suggests a lot about the creativity I’m talking about. Here are just a few examples:
- How to monster-proof one’s house
- How to safely light one’s building made of ice or snow
- How to build a fireplace in a wooden house so it doesn’t burn down
- How not to step in lava and how to build with it so that it doesn’t burn down your building overnight
- How to move or pick up TNT
- How to keep one’s wolf safe at night.
Minecraft at its most kid-friendly
There are definitely kid-safe public and semi-public Minecraft servers (called “whitelisted” servers because would-be players have to apply to join). One I know well is the Australia-based Massively @ Jokaydia. With 500 registered users worldwide, it’s run by educators who call it a Minecraft Guild for parents as well as kids (aged 4-16). Parents are welcome to participate, and everybody learns. See the citizenship and social- and media-literacy skills represented in this list of 10 kinds of learning that this server aims to help players develop in Minecraft). But this is informal learning for parents and young people (“no teaching or lessons allowed in the game”). It’s also free (donations “gratefully accepted”), but there’s an application that people fill out to join.
There are certainly other kid-safe Minecraft servers out there. [Mojang doesn't endorse any single "safe" Minecraft server.] The servers come and go (it can be time-consuming to run a successful server for more than a few players), so do google “safe minecraft servers” to see what strikes you. When I did, I got about 1.7 million search results, but it looked like there were some good options right on the first results page.
Make a donation, get particle effects
If you google and click on some of them, you’ll probably learn a lot about Minecraft safety just from their descriptions of how they’re set up for play. Many are supported by donations. One example is SandlotMinecraft.com, which offers “perks” for donations (smart!), so don’t be surprised if Minecraft players at your house tell you, for example, that you really need to make a donation because they REALLY need “particle effects” such as “smoke, fire, hearts, ender dust, and TNT.” I mean, really, you’ll need them too when you’re in the game yourself!
So to sum up, the only two safety issues I can think of which parents may want to think about are 1) the age-old need for balance in our lives (because there are so many absorbing ways to have fun in the Minecraft sandbox and/or player vs. player game) and 2) the multiplayer experience (as with any multiplayer online game or online community like Xbox Live). Multiplayer – whether online, on phones, or on Xbox Live – means you don’t always know the people you’re playing with. Most kids are smart about that, but some need reminders not to share personal information with people they don’t know. But it can also be helpful to keep in mind that kids learn a lot from figuring out among themselves how to resolve arguments and get themselves out of fixes, and digital spaces like a Minecraft game are pretty safe environments in which to do that all-important learning and inner-guidance-system development that keep them safe the rest of their lives.
Minecraft advice for parents
My research turned up some great tips from seasoned Minecraft players, some of them from parents for fellow parents. Here’s a sampler:
- About “griefing”, defined as “the act of irritating and angering people in video games through the use of destruction, construction, or social engineering” at MinecraftWiki.net, which adds that it has become a real problem for server administrators and is probably why people screen potential players or “whitelist” their servers. Another problem is trolling, annoying other players by killing their avatars. These can be forms of online harassment or bullying and can either be tough for emotionally vulnerable kids or a tool for developing resilience, in-world “street smarts,” or strategy, risk-assessment, and social skills. So much depends on the child. There can be a lot of creativity in griefing too, whether offensive or defensive, and – as in life in general – there’s a spectrum between fun pranks and cruel pranks. See these 9 tips for dealing with a griefer in Minecraft at WikiHow and this great advice (whether a player wants to partake in griefing or not) here.
- From a gamer and a gamer-parent: A comment from player “ZobmieRules” at SafeVideoGames.blogspot.com (do a page search for “ZobmieRules,” and this date and time: March 6, 2012 at 5:33. His/her first three words are “To any parent…”, so you could do a page search for that phrase too). Good Minecraft advice for parents by a parent (her kids are 5 and 7) can also be found at GameSpot – do a page search of her screenname VixenWolf11 here. She rates Minecraft “9.5.”
- From another mom: The user reviews at Common Sense Media are much more useful than that of the site’s own reviewer – check out that of 18-year-old “CsomeSence” here (his/her headline is “Clearly no ‘Common Sense’” or search for his/her screen name) and self-professed parent and educator “BayAreaMediaMaven,” who focuses on the potential risks to emotionally vulnerable children here.
- Hardcore safety: For players of this variant of “survival” mode Minecraft, see this at MinecraftWiki.net for 9 meaty survival tips like “build an in-door tree farm” as soon as possible; maintain situational awareness at all times; if a horde of skeletons approaches at the same time as a creeper, the skeletons are probably the bigger problem; and “wear at least Iron armour at all times, replacing it as it gets worn.”
- Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition – the biggest upside is that it’s so plug-’n'-play for console gamers. According to a great review in VentureBeat.com, they can just start it up and start building. But serious Minecrafters will instantly see the downsides of no creative mode, no mods, and the fact that its features lag behind the computer version by about a year. BUT there are “great multiplayer options” for play among friends and fellow gamers via Xbox Live. (A reader can’t tell if the combat in the Xbox edition is “no fun” because the writer really just likes creating and building or because it’s no fun for people who love PvP mode on computers.) This edition had a “record-breaking launch” on May 9, 2012, and sold millions of copies within a few months of launch, Gamespot reported last October.
- Mining Minecraft for learning – a 3-part series of guest posts right here in NFN by Marianne Malmstrom, who teaches 3rd-through-8th-graders in Minecraft – “Part 1: Little gamers’ digital play through a teacher’s eyes,” “Part 2: Brilliance when students drive the learning,” and “Part 3: Safety & citizenship in games (do try this at home)“
- “Minecraft in education: How video games are teaching kids”
- Server admin challenges: Here’s a page that can give you a solid sense of the challenges of running a public Minecraft server, like those listed at Mojang’s Minecraft.net here (there are also “whitelist” servers where players have to be approved, or apply, before they can join).
- “What does ‘safe’ really look like in a digital age?”
- Time’s McCracken’s story about the making of his Minecraft story
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