I 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.
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.
If 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.
Soon 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.
Don’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.
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 ShareAwesomeNow.org 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 ShareAwesomeNow.org 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.