Keeping Kids Safe and Positive Online #ShareAwesome

McDonald's Build a Better Burger event #MyPerfectBurgerI live an online life. And by default, so do my kids. When we do something awesome, it generally ends up on Instagram. Or Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, or some combination of one or more of the social media channels.. For instance, last week we got to attend a special McDonald’s event. You guys, only 4 stores in CA have this Build a Better Burger situation where you can choose from 22 toppings to make the burger of your dreams. So you know I’m going to share that with my followers. Because that is freaking cool.

Meltdown in the pool.And some of our not-so-awesome moments also end up online. Remember that time I forgot to bring an allergen safe alternative for the birthday cake at our friend’s party? The supportive comments from you guys left for me made me feel less guilty about an innocent oversight. Although it is unsaid, and I try not to make a big production out of it, the kids know that these moments are shared. And a lot of the times, they’ll suggest that something be instagrammed or tweeted. But they don’t have a full understanding of what each of those things mean, or why it might not be the best idea. I’m writing this post, in conjunction with the National PTA and Lifelock to foster conversation between families about how great it is to #shareawesome online but in a safe and positive way. Not only do you need to teach your child about safety in their everyday lives, but now we also need to be aware of the online dangers, and how the information we share online could lead to unsafe situations. And no matter what platform we are using (app, networking site, device, etc.) the skills we need to stay safe and positive online, are very similar to those we use offline.

playing-minecraft-is-awesome-if-done-safelyIf you have a boy between the ages of 5 and 40, they are probably playing Minecraft. This was my first taste of my son being in an online world, connecting with others, where he could potentially end up in an unsafe situation. I resisted letting him join for as long as possible but knew that wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. We first started off trying to limit the chatting options. But I realized that he needed to grow and learn and I needed to be part of the equation, no matter how disinterested I was, in Minecraft.

Thinknoodles-videos-are-awesomeSoon my son began watching Thinknoodles, a video game commentator with over 400,000 YouTube subscribers and over 100 million views of his popular video series. He would sit for hours watching this guy, who never shows his face, play Minecraft. But it took us a while to find Thinknoodles. There are many other people who commentate and many who use curse words and are not age appropriate for my son. To me, Thinknoodles is a great guy for the kids to be learning from. And although he starts off every show with, “Hey everyone, it’s your friend Thinknoodles…” he is still a stranger. It is important to stay current with every single thing that your kids are doing online as their interest and interactions can change at a moments notice.  When I realized that my nephew and son were inviting some of these well-known commentators to be part of their private realms, I got a little bit freaked out. To the kids, these are friends who like the same things they do. But to me, that was a teaching moment. Stay part of the conversation, know what you need to know about the game to keep your kids and family safe. And though he mostly plays with people he knows, there have been times when I’ve noticed something in the chat that didn’t seem to friendly. Thankfully, he doesn’t take any negative comments personally. And it has provided us with a great segue in to talk of online bullying.

filming-his-own-videosDon’t get me wrong, I am actually really glad that my son plays Minecraft. While sometimes it can become all-consuming and the only thing he thinks or talks about, he has still learned a ton from it. When he hooked up the computer to our home television to give my husband and I a tutorial of his own, we were blown away with his ability to build worlds and navigate the program and also at the principles he was using to create this world. And he has shown a real interest in producing his own show. He sometimes films himself talking about the game. I can’t even begin to think about how helpful this is going to be to him as he has to do more public speaking for school projects.  But he won’t be posting these videos anywhere for the time being. I do my best to keep us all safe when I am posting online, and I know my son has less information than I do in terms of what the repercussions could be. This will have to continue to be a world that we navigate together.

Thinknoodles is a friend to everyone that plays Minecraft. Since I know that my kid is not the only one fully entrenched in this world of Minecraft, I did what any good mom would do and reached out to the man himself, Thinknoodles.  I asked him some questions about keeping kids safe on Minecraft and here is what he had to say:

(I let my son ask him two questions. I had to. When I told him that Thinknoodles was going to answer some questions for me he almost cried and told me, upon hearing the news, that it was the BEST. DAY. EVER!  Score 1 for Mom…)

How do you keep yourself and Noodlers safe online?

Any time someone sends me something that’s far too personal, whether it be their age, address or phone number, I always send them a message back letting them know that it’s dangerous to give out personal information to others, even if you think you know them.  I try my best to keep my most personal information unknown, to keep myself safe as well.  

In Minecraft, how do you feel about staying safe? I know that if someone curses or swears on the core, they will get banned or kicked out? Note to self: find out what the core is…

Yes that’s true, we don’t tolerate non-family-friendliness on the Core and, as you know, I don’t engage in any of it myself! 

And then I took over:

Since you are an expert at some very popular online games, do you have any tips for keeping kids safe while playing:

Expert? Hehe.  Yes, ignore the chat. It’s the number 1 way for kids to get in trouble with such things online or get lured into believing someone is more trustworthy than they are. Don’t click links coming from emails, either, if they ask you to ‘verify your password’ or anything like that. 9 times out of 10 it’s a scam.

Are there child safe tips that parents should know for these games, ie how to turn off chat, etc.?

You can disable the chat in Multiplayer on Minecraft and I was going to suggest that above. However, in many of the multiplayer games (which is where you’d want to turn off the chat), many of the game statistics or happenings are listed in the chat. With scoreboards nowadays in most games, you might be able to get away with it. If you can, DO! :)

Are realms created by the kids really safe? Only people who he invites would be allowed to play on there, correct? 

Yes, Realms is an amazing service and I use it myself for my Noodle Planet. Currently, the only invited person to my Noodle Planet Realm is my wife. You can also manage a similar service with nearly any Minecraft server out there, since the “invite only” feature is built-in to the Minecraft server software (it’s called a whitelist, only people listed on the whitelist will be allowed in and anyone else will be denied). The thing about Realms is that it is far easier to manage right within the client and I’m a big fan. 

I’m truly grateful to Thinknoodles for taking a second to answer some of these questions that might help to make our kids a little bit safer in terms of their Minecraft play. I’m also so glad that the National PTA and Lifelock have joined together to really encourage discussion of this topic.  To help spread the word further, they are holding a contest!

Snap a photo of an awesome moment in your day and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the #ShareAwesome hashtag!

Students who enter the #ShareAwesome contest between September 15 – November 30, 2014 will have a chance to win fantastic prizes, including tablets and a $2,500 scholarship! Visit to learn more! 

#ShareAwesome celebrates students and families that use social media and tools for good – good for themselves, their family, their friends and the whole world. Head to the site for all kinds of resources for your family and school. Do your part to share your knowledge to help keep kids everywhere positive and safe online.

Thank you for supporting the companies that let me talk about things that I think need to be talked about.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Cool Minecraft Party Ideas

Dude.  It's your birthday.  Have some cake. // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comHow is he 8 already?  It’s crazy.  My husband and I can still remember my water breaking plain as day.  I mean, you don’t really forget something like that.  Of course back then, I wasn’t sure what was happening and made my husband google it.  Oh the laughs we had about that.  But enough details about fluids.  My oldest turned 8 and of course he wanted a Minecraft party.  I didn’t want to throw a big party this year and you know how quickly themed parties can get out of control (ahem, Lego Dance Party complete with kid discoteque…).  So instead, I billed this as a playdate and had him invite just his cousins and a few school friends over one Friday afternoon.  It worked out really well.  It was small, but still really fun and I know some of you are probably looking for cool Minecraft party ideas.       

Coming soon, the coolest shirts ever.  Put whatever you want on them! // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comThis kid.  He’s super awesome.  But gone are the days when I really get total say over his parties.  He definitely has a point of view and I really have to sell him on some of my ideas.  Oh, I kinda also waited until the last minute to pull this together so color me surprised when I figured out that none of our local stores really sell any pre-made Minecraft party stuff…Time to get creative. 

Minecraft inspired birthday party decor // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI looked on Etsy but didn’t really have enough time to order any party decor.  So I purchased some Minecraft themed digital papers and created a super simple Minecraft birthday banner with brads.  I tell you what.  No one else has that party decor so he thought that was pretty cool.  I’ll tell you something else.  Kid’s don’t really understand what Happy Cake Day means.  But “birthday” was far too many letters for me to cut out.  And saying Happy Birthday is just like, so cliche. 

Cool Minecraft posters make party decor hip and original.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI knew I needed to add in more Minecraft touches.  So I spent some time online browsing.  I came across these cool Minecraft propaganda style posters and knew they would be perfect.  I printed out a bunch of them and tacked them to the wall.  The kids thought these were pretty awesome.  And when the party was over, I let my boys move some of them in to their rooms.  I felt like their graphic design was good enough to have it be art on their walls.  

Black, green and white is the perfect color combo for a Minecraft party // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI thought about the creepers (do you know Minecraft? There are these things called creepers.  and they are shades of green) so I used their color scheme in my kitchen area for the plates and cutlery.  It really just helped to play up the Minecraftedness of the party…


ice cream sundae bars are where it's at for kid's parties.  // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comWe also decided to forgo the cake in favor of ice cream for the party.  We used the black, white and green color scheme over here too.  I did create a wall hanging above the table of what I thought were squid…but all the kids thought they were endermen.  Either way.  It was Minecrafty and it worked.  I didn’t get a photo of it though.  

No cake needed.  We made ice cream nachos for my son's birthday party and they were a big hit!  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comWe could have done just normal ice cream sundaes but we decided to do ice cream nachos instead.  I mean, really that is just an ice cream sundae but my mom made waffle cones and we broke them up in to pieces and those were the chips.  I also made mini chocolate cupcakes as a topping because how often do you see cupcakes as a topping for an ice cream sundae? 

Timed skittles game is easy, cheap and a great activity to play at kid's parties!  // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comBut how do you keep kids entertained?  My husband and I watch Jimmy Fallon just about every night (well we tape them because we are too old to stay up late enough to watch them when they are really on) and he plays some really amazing games with his celebrity guests.  So I tried to figure out which ones we could modify for the kids and to fill in any gaps I searched for “minute to win it” style games.  These kept the kids really engaged and because each one was done in heats, they all hung around to cheer each other on.  Another great part was they were super inexpensive!  I presorted Skittles for the game above and two kids went head to head and had to separate them by color using only one hand.  The first one done, wins.  It doesn’t really seem like they would be that in to it but they seemed to really enjoy it.  

Kid-friendly flip cup for a fun birthday party activity. // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comYeah, we played flip cup.  So?  Ok, so not the traditional drinking game flip cup but a more kid friendly version.  I thought about using soda for a split second and then just realized we didn’t need any liquid.  AND we started preparing them for their college years…

Jimmy Fallon inspired water wars game is perfect to play at kid's birthday parties.  // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comBut the most fun game was water wars.  I saw Jimmy Fallon play it with Li Lo and just knew the kids would love it!  On the invitation I asked everyone to bring a change of clothes or swim trunks.  I bought a cheap deck of cards (in case they got ruined from the water) and used plastic cups.  All you do is split the deck and have two kids face each other.  Each kid turns over a card at the same time and whoever has the higher number gets to throw water in the other persons face…so funny right?!  I think my husband had them do best of 3 and then that winner advanced to the next round.  

Water war is a super fun game to play at a kid's summer birthday party //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI can’t wait to do this again!  I ordered some pizza for dinner (which I’ve never done before and it was SO easy!) and then it was time to send the kids home.

Easy and inexpensive kid's party favors from Target // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI had thrown around some Minecraft favor ideas with my son (like cool Minecraft socks!) but he was not in to it.  So instead we went with these fun mustache glasses party favors from Target and a small water gun.  

Go Pro is the PERFECT gift idea for little boys.  It provides hours of enjoyment for the whole family and also helps teach responsibility. //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comAll my son wanted for his birthday was a Go Pro.  And he got one.  I really wish he would have had this before his playdate.  Just think of the footage we would have had of the water wars!  So I guess this is the least Minecrafty party you could possibly have.  But it worked and still looked pretty cool.


DIY Minecraft Birthday Banner

A DIY Minecraft birthday banner.  That decidedly is not very Minecraft-y at all.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI freaking love those pre-made banners they sell in the stores.  You know, the ones with mostly primary colors and they say the generic terms like, “happy birthday” or “happy anniversary” and are held together with brads?  Urban Outfitters sometimes carries them that have profanity in them too, but my kids don’t know what all those words are yet and I’m not going to teach them on a special ocassion.  For years I have been making my own custom banners, using the same simple idea and brads.  I have no idea why I haven’t shared them before.  But you simply have to start making these for anything and everything.  My oldest son requested a Minecraft party this year.  I didn’t want to have a real party.  I billed it more as a playdate and invited just a few school friends over.  That being said, he still expected some decorating.  Turns out Party City doesn’t sell Minecraft stuff.  2 days before the party is not the time you want to be finding this out.  So I decided to make my own DIY Minecraft Birthday Banner.

Use online templates to create custom birthday banners.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI found Quality Kids Crafts around my youngest son’s 2nd birthday.  I made one of these brad banners that said “Miles is Awesome. And 2.”  To make it easy, this site has a few ready made sayings that you can just print out and cut.  But they also have each letter of the alphabet and numbers too.  Which is perfect for making your own signs.  I’m not going to lie.  These take some time.  Especially if you are crazy like I am and want to add your own patterns to the letters.  But if you are just printing and cutting, they really don’t take all that long.  Most of my crafts can be done while watching Naked and Afraid (my new favorite show) or another show of your choosing.