Category Archives: Parenting
Good clean fun
Tweens love Minecraft, if my kids’ set is any indication. And it’s a fabulous game for creativity, persistence, and problem solving, as well as just being fun. Kids can play by themselves, or they can go online to one of many servers and play games together within a Minecraft environment. My daughter has found some really fun and challenging servers through YouTube videos by trusted Minecraft gurus, and of course through friends. She and her friends like to all join a server, and set their phones up in front of them so they can Facetime and talk while they play. (Due to the angle the phone is typically set at, my husband has taken to calling them “The Nosehair Club.”)
There are all kinds of monsters in the Minecraft world, including the Creeper. It’s a nasty opponent that sneaks up and then explodes, destroying everything around it, including you and your constructions. It gives very little warning, and can have devastating effects. Luckily there is a simple way to repel them – keep a cat around, and Creepers will run away.
The real scary characters
Unfortunately, there’s another type of creeper on Minecraft servers – creepy dudes who creep on kids. And getting rid of them is more complicated. I asked a certain ten-year-old girl I know (who I’ll call Bella) what kind of chat messages she had gotten from other players that made her feel uncomfortable.“You’re cute.” (without preamble) “I want to fuck you.” (without preamble) “Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me?” [Is told, "NO!"] “You fucking bitch. Stalker! [continued swearing until chat turned off]“
She also described another player constantly following her in “sneak” mode and mimicking all her movements.
I don’t know if players using male skins experience the same kind of thing, but referring to her girl friends who play, Bella says, “We’ve all had it happen to us.”
To me, it sounds like there are certain players who will flirt with, proposition, stalk, or abuse players who use female character skins. My guess is this is mostly coming from immature teenage boys (the bulk of players are 15-21, and 94% are male). Motivations probably range from clueless romantic excitement that “OMG, there’s a girl, an actual, real female person, who is into this game I love,” to older boys forgetting/ignoring that a lot of pretty young kids play, to just straight-up trolling jerkwads. As much of a worrier as I normally am, I doubt there are many actual child predators lurking for prey on Minecraft gaming servers.
But who cares? The point is that prepubescent children are trying to play a fun game with friends, when someone sidles over and sexually harasses them. My concern is protecting my kid from the feelings Bella describes: feeling stunned, wondering, “What’s wrong with you?!” and well, being creeped out.
“Minecraft is not a dating site!” Bella emphasizes. “It’s meant to play, and build, and construct, and, like, play cool minigames.”
What can we do?
I asked Bella what she does when this kind of thing happens. She replied that she tries to ignore it, waits for chat to end when a game round begins, and had just learned from a friend that you can block communications from individual players.
In reality, there is a lot more that one can do, but kids don’t necessarily understand the systems and procedures for reporting bad behavior. So here is some information on what you can do.
First, of course you could prohibit your child from playing online. Or from playing on servers you’re not familiar and comfortable with. I’m personally not willing to say “no servers,” because my kid really has a ton of fun with her friends online.
Second, you could identify certain servers that seem problematic, and avoid them. You need to be able to rely on your child to tell you what’s going on, and check in with them for this to work, of course.
Third, you and your child can take action against specific people. Typing “/mute” followed by the offender’s name will prevent that person’s messages from showing up in your chat window.
You can also research the rules for a server. For instance, Bella was playing on “The Hive.” Her dad Googled “the hive minecraft,” found the associated website, and had to click around a bit to find the in-game rules, listed in the forums. In addition to a no swearing rule, it also says,
“Bullying of any form will not be tolerated on our servers. If someone is being derogative towards you or another player, report it on the forums with a screenshot and the player(s) will be dealt with swiftly.”
So for this server, if Bella had someone swear at her or sexually harass her, she could take a screenshot showing the offending material in her chat window, then post it in the forum for a moderator to review. It’s a bit complicated – you’d have to create an account on the forums, and then upload the image of the screenshot. But at least there is recourse.
Servers often have moderators in-game as well. If you can identify one of the players as a moderator (or the administrator of the server), you can send a chat message to them asking for help dealing with abusive messages. Usually the command is /tell or /msg, followed by the moderator’s name, then what you want to say to them. Moderators will usually ban a player who has violated the rules, either for a certain time, or permanently.
Risk versus benefit
Each family has to decide whether the fun, camaraderie, and learning their child gets from Minecraft servers is worth dealing with the chat messages they’re seeing, and how the monitoring should be done. And even if you hover and help respond to nasty messages, you can only react after your kid has seen them. It’s a difficult question. But I figured parents can’t think through how they want to handle it unless they know it’s happening. I was grateful to find out about it, and we’re taking action. As things develop, we might change our approach.
Oy. We were at the dinner table, discussing puberty (as you do). The six-year-old strongly expressed her desire never to “born a baby,” and said she never will, because there are pills that can keep you from getting pregnant. (We’ve discussed this particular issue before.) Then the older kid started listing other birth control methods. Like, really specifically, and with authority. I don’t have a problem with her knowing about these things, but I haven’t gotten to that level of detail with her, and I don’t think it’s in any of her books. So I asked where she learned all that. I think it helped that I had more of an admiring tone than a worried or judgmental one.
So she told me about encountering a link to the “Murry” show after watching a Minecraft video, and being so shocked and disturbed by the title she felt compelled to watch it. And that led to watching a lot more. Once she described stories of tweens having group sex, 14-year-old prostitutes, and nine-year-olds smoking and drinking, I figured out which show she was talking about.
And actually, it led to a great discussion. As I told her, this is one of the reasons why we’ve told her not to go exploring on YouTube. Because I would rather that she learn about normal, healthy behavior before being exposed to what is really just a modern-day freak show. Maury is designed to shock and titillate, and provide fodder for that impulse we have to judge others. It’s pretty much the worst sex-ed material you could find outside of porn. But, I was pretty impressed at her ability to digest the information and process it into useful caveats about sex and drugs. Of course, she is also naturally cautious, thoughtful, and eager to please authority figures, so that probably helped. But her overall reaction was shock, and a passionate determination never to do things like that.
I think this important conversation was only possible due to two major factors:
- We mostly avoid punitive discipline. Not completely, but I do try to adhere to “connection before correction,” in an effort to keep my kids comfortable coming to me in situations that they worry might get them in trouble – whether that’s spilling something on the furniture, watching inappropriate videos, or (eventually) something bad or dangerous happening involving cars, alcohol, sex, or whatever.
- Before encountering these videos, my kid knew quite a bit about sex, from a loving, factual, normalized perspective. I strongly feel that the best way to approach sex education is to treat it like all other education – answer questions as they come up, in an honest and developmentally appropriate way. I found It’s So Amazing to be a wonderful resource, which I could use for visual reference as I shared information with my pre-literate children, and then as an age-appropriate resource to be used by reading age children on their own.
I believe that pretty much everyone’s kids are going to run across some puzzling, worrisome, or disturbing content before we would consider them ready to handle it. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it nigh inevitable. It’s worth thinking about how your parenting might not just limit the chances of such an occurrence, but also give your child space to ask for your help if it does happen. I feel like if I’d been a bit less connection-focused (I’ve been working on minimizing punishment lately), or if my kids didn’t already have a firm track record of me talking about squirm-inducing subjects in a matter-of-fact and open way, or if my daughter had had no context whatsoever in which to place the extreme spectacle she saw, she probably would have simply clammed up, hidden it from me, and worried about it on her own.
There’s a lot of argument over this toy: is it feminist, or does it perpetuate pink princess stereotypes? Do girls and boys play and think differently? If so, should we use those differences to lure girls into STEM? Or should we assume that boys and girls actually tend to play and think the same way, when allowed to?
I don’t have answers to all these questions. But I can tell you I was really excited about this toy when it was first announced. Now that my five year old daughter has actually played with it, I’m a little disappointed. Ultimately I’d say it’s not worth the money, and other building toys are better. Upshot – the best thing about Goldie Blox is that it inspired me to buy some Tinker Toys for my daughter.
Here’s the good stuff:
- Unlike so many cool building toys, here’s one that specifically welcomes girls. Too many nifty toys have only boys pictured on packaging, along with the blue, black, and green that places them squarely on the boy side of the toy aisle divide.
- No batteries. I think this not only decreases the annoying factor for those around the playing child, but encourages more imaginative play.
- It does offer some interesting possibilities for building and physics play.
- The main character of the story is a girl who likes to build things and solve problems.
The drawbacks come in two categories – the toy actually has some sexist elements*, and the play value of the toy is limited:
- Its premise is basically, “Can we make math pink?”
- There are five character figures you can use in your constructions. Of the five figures, four are MALE. The female character is a ballerina. (Note to Goldie Blox: If you’re trying to make a feminist toy, you really should avoid the trope that men are the default, and try to keep the ratio of genders closer to real life. Maybe even three girls and two boys!)
- Suggested play is focused on making different shapes with the ribbon as you set it up to spin the characters. There are no construction goals beyond “spin the characters.” Everything beyond that is about visual design. (Because girls don’t accomplish objectives – they make things pretty, teehee!)
- There are actually further, more interesting ways to play with this, but they probably require far more pieces than come with the set. See below.
The tantalizing thing about this toy is that you could play with it in many other ways. There are slots on the top and on the sides of the board that accept the spindles. Likewise, the wheels have all sorts of holes, some of which fit tightly with a spindle, and some of which allow it to move freely. The blocks can be used as connectors, so you could build structures and include spinning, turning, and swinging elements. If only you had way more pieces.
Goldie Blox’s website draws attention to both the possibilities and the insufficiencies of their product on the Play page, which features constructions far more imaginative than the suggestions in the instruction booklet. However, many of them require a lot more pieces than come in the box. You can theoretically order a “Blox + Bits” expansion set, but currently it’s sold out. And honestly, if you ponied up $30-$60 (!) for ten measly spindles, do you really want to fork over $9.99 for some more?
Bottom line – this is an underdeveloped, under-equipped building kit with a slightly novel mechanical aspect (the ribbon) and a lot of flashy marketing. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s worth the $29.99 I spent. I certainly don’t recommend spending $60 or more for it!
Alternative ideas include:
- Tinker Toys, which have a similar pieces and connection, and allow spinning and rotating elements.
- K’Nex, which explore gears, wheels, axles, levers, pulleys, incline planes, bridge engineering, etc.
- Lincoln Logs – a classic.
- For older kids, good old Erector sets.
- Of course, there’s always Lego. Add girl figures to taste.
- Toys that explore other ways of building such as wooden blocks, magnetic building kits, marble runs, snap circuits, vehicle models, anatomical models, and so on.
* I hear tell that the follow-up game is even worse, the goal being to help a friend win a princess pageant and ride a parade float. I haven’t seen that game, so I can’t comment, but it seems consistent with Goldie Blox’s intentional “girls are girlie” approach.
Until this week, I was shockingly misinformed about fever. Despite being generally well educated and pretty savvy about medical stuff, I had some serious misconceptions. Misconceptions that may have led to unneeded treatment of my child, and definitely led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety for me!
My poor kid has had some UTIs lately, and one involved a fever up to 104° (40° C) for several days. My husband and I had to threaten, coerce, and manipulate her to get her to take some ibuprofen to get the fever down. I was terrified she’d get brain damage, start hallucinating, or seizing, or . . . I dunno, other unspecified awful stuff. I slept next to her, my clothes arranged like a firefighter’s, so I could jump up and run her to the emergency room if the fever went over the magic number (101° while on ibuprofen) one of the doctors specified.
During our next visit with a different doctor, he mentioned that fever is not a problem, and doesn’t need to be treated. But it was a brief comment amongst a lot of other critical information about kidney involvement, ID and sensitivities, and the right antibiotic. I felt like I’d gotten some mixed messages, but I didn’t think about it much at the time.
Two weeks later, my lucky kiddo came down with Fifth Disease. And her temperature went up. When it rose to 103.7°, and her skin felt as hot as a baked potato fresh from the oven, I woke her up and tried to get her to take some medicine. Despite (or because of?) her evident misery and restless sleep, she refused, so I pushed fluids, kept the covers off her, and stroked her with a wet cloth.
Now, we had called the advice nurse that evening, and she told me, “A fever between 100 and 104 is therapeutic.” In Worried Mom mode, I didn’t reflect on it much. My baby was frighteningly hot! Everything in my guts said, “Fix it! Cool her off! NOW!”
But later, with a little distance and a lot more sleep, I decided to investigate just what the deal is with fever. Turns out, fevers in response to illnesses are relatively harmless. (Heat stroke is a separate issue.) They might even help get you better faster. They don’t cause brain damage or any other lasting harm, and are self-limiting to 107° or less. Pediatricians do not recommend taking a child’s temperature frequently, or waking them up to take “antipyretics” (that’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to bring fevers down. Many parents dose antipyretics wrong, which is a much greater risk to a child’s health than a fever is. Even febrile seizures are not likely to cause harm, and using antipyretics doesn’t seem to prevent them. Oh, and if it’s lower than 100°, it’s not a fever, it’s a normal fluctuation in body temperature that happens every day for all of us.
TL:DR version – even high fevers in children are harmless. (NB: Fever in young babies is more complex.) You can give your kid medicine if they are suffering, but the fever itself isn’t anything to worry about.
This still feels wrong to me. But I checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. I think part of the reason fever phobia is so stubborn in our culture is that pediatricians focus on fevers. Every office visit starts with taking the child’s temperature. Any fever is focused on and investigated – how high? How long has the child had the fever? Presumably they’re trying to find out what is causing the fever, and to eliminate possible serious underlying conditions. Which is sensible, but gives us parents the impression that fever is scary. Plus clearly different doctors have different attitudes and give conflicting advice about fever management. Add in the historical use of “fever” in the names of many scary childhood illnesses, and it’s a great recipe for continued fear in parents!
Fever itself isn’t dangerous, and in the future I’m going to attempt to stow my anxiety and deal with it more rationally. Of course, my child tends to feel quite miserable, has trouble sleeping, and won’t eat or drink much when her fever goes over 101°, so I might still give her medicine, but at least I know now that the risk I’m battling is her discomfort, and I don’t have to worry that she’s cooking her own brain.
For reference by worried parents, here is a nice rundown of the common worries and the facts about fever.
This morning I asked my five year old to retrieve her backpack from her room. She insisted it wasn’t up there. I was pretty sure it was. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs with my wonky ankles only to find it there. So I told my ten year old, “I’ll pay you fifty cents to go check Claire’s room for her backpack. And if it is there, you also get to go ‘nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah’ to her.” (Including taunting hip shaking and derisive jazz hands, naturally.)
Turns out, it was in the front closet. No wonder we couldn’t find it – it was put away where it belongs! I admitted I was wrong and Claire was right, paid Chloe her two quarters, and went about my business.
Claire is in a developmental stage with a lot of anxieties, especially about nightmares. She has trouble falling asleep, wakes up and comes to my bed in the night, and resists bedtime at all costs. I’ve worked with her to make bedtime less scary, empathized, expressed certainty that she can feel scared, have nightmares, feel bad feelings, and still survive, and that it will get easier. I’ve given her more bedtime help and support because she is truly in distress over this, and that is valid. But I also offered to pay her a quarter every morning that she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. And also, when she leaves that quarter lying around in some random place, I take it and put it back in the stash and pay her with it again the next successful morning.
The ten year old wants an Instagram account. I’m considering letting her have one (really, me getting one on her behalf and letting her post through me, since the age requirement is 13). But I’m thinking that I’ll make her write an essay about the potential risks and pitfalls of posting on Instagram and turn in it to me before we proceed. I will point her toward appropriate source material. But I will also grade it, and she has to pass to get an account.
Sadly, I say, “Pick up your damn _________ and put it away!” way too often. I pledge to at least try to leave the “damn” out, even if I don’t manage to make cleaning up a well-planned, Mary-Poppins-themed game as part of a thoughtful and consistent daily routine.
I let them attend church with friends. Until I hear a report that they were offered the opportunity to get full-immersion baptized last Sunday. Then I flip out. Then I hear the further report that she may have misheard, and I calm down. Mostly.
Most of the time lately, I feel like life is kind of a controlled fall. I’m doing the best I can, feeling a bit frazzled, but also having fun with the girls. I keep waiting for life to calm down a bit, for things to normalize and allow some predictability and routine. But I’m realizing that this will actually probably never happen.
But today, I want to talk about something that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t spent day after day taking care of a small child. You get totally worn out because almost every interaction you have with your toddler is a power struggle. It’s amazing how utterly draining it can be simply to tend to life’s necessities, and maybe go to the library or (God forbid) get a sibling to one of their activities. Because every time you want to do anything, you are met with resistance.
Here’s an easy, relaxed morning with your spouse or friend:
Each person grabs their own choice of simple breakfast food. You discuss your plans for the day, and decide to buy some groceries, then swing back home and eat lunch. You spend five minutes cleaning up the breakfast stuff, then hit the store. Everyone hops out of the car and heads in. You cruise through the aisles, each picking up needed items, helping each other remember needed stuff, and check out. Back home, you both help bring bags in, put food away, and get lunch started.
Here’s the same experience with a toddler:
He insists he wants Cheerios for breakfast, but only if he can get them himself. He wants to climb the pantry shelves like a monkey to get them. When told that is unsafe, he throws himself on the floor and screams for five minutes. After helping him get over that, you talk it over and agree he can stand on a chair to reach the cereal. He gets the box, and you put some in a bowl with milk, cut up some fruit for him, and give him a cup of juice to go with it. He looks at the bowl of cereal and says, “NOOOO, I want eggs!” At this point you can tell him to like it or lump it, you can try to remind him that he wanted the Cheerios, or you can make him some eggs. Every choice is bad, and at least two lead to a screaming temper tantrum. Breakfast takes 45 minutes, and ends with you hunched over the counter, eating the kids’ leftovers because you’ve spent so much time and energy on their breakfast, you never made any for yourself. Don’t forget to clean everything up yourself, while the toddler hangs off your ankle complaining he’s bored. You probably have to mop even if he didn’t deliberately throw food this time.
You know what? I’m not even going to do the trip to the grocery store, because typing it is too exhausting to contemplate. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself.
And no matter what discipline style you use, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get constant blowback and have to deal with it. (Even if people are very harsh with punishments, toddlers just don’t have the mental equipment to control their obnoxious behavior traits – they don’t remember, plan, or regulate their impulses well at all, and neither total unconditional parenting nor brutal spanking, nor anything in between is going to change that.) And the whole point of this post is that, however you deal with opposition, the dealing with it, over and over and over again all day, is what sucks the life out of you.
And that’s why the uninitiated don’t understand. There’s a certain underlying thought of “You’re the adult – just make them do what you want.” And securing compliance from a small child is often quite doable, and one interaction doesn’t drain all your resources and energy. So people who are with their kids for two hours a day, or who babysit, or who witness one interaction between a parent and child at a discount store or park or whatever – to them, it seems relatively easy and they can’t fathom how taking care of small children all day is a hard job.
The good news is a lot of these people will someday take care of small children for long hours, and we will get to laugh at them.
This is a great book for parents who worry that their toddlers don’t eat enough. I would say that the focus of the book is definitely on anxiety about getting enough calories in to your kid, with getting more variety a second goal, and more aspirational nutrition running third. So if your child eats plenty of food, is gaining weight well, and you mostly want to teach him to love whole grains and broccoli, this might not be your go-to manual. If, however, your doctor is concerned that your child has fallen off her growth curve and you find yourself chasing your toddler around trying to get extra food into her, this is going to be very helpful.
Samela does a good job of walking parents through both normal toddler behavior that can complicate healthy eating (can’t sit at the table for long periods, will graze all day on snack food if allowed, etc.), and the standard dietetic requirements. She discusses macro- and micro-nutrients, and cautions against common pitfalls such as depending on commercial “toddler foods,” letting a child drink vast quantities of milk, or expecting a toddler to eat far more food than they actually need.
The advice about what to feed your toddler seems pretty good, but a bit unambitious at times. Perhaps I hang with too crunchy a crowd, but I know a lot of mothers who would stroke out at reading the recommendations to feed your toddler a Nutella and Fluff sandwich, frozen yogurt sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, or a pudding cup with vanilla wafers. However, if a parent is worried about getting enough calories in, these Whole Food heresies are probably defensible, and they are counterbalanced with many more healthy suggestions. As a mom whose children eat plenty of food, but gravitate to white starches too much, I would have loved more advice on nudging them in the direction of vegetables, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of this book.
The one thing I found truly irksome about this book was its disregard of breastfeeding. This book is explicitly aimed at children 12-36 months old, and it has not one breath about continued nursing. I understand that nursing past one is very rare, but it is recommended by health professionals and organizations, and it deserves at least one sentence when there’s an entire section devoted to “Milk.” Even chocolate milk gets a positive side-bar, and rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk are all discussed, but giving a toddler the biologically normal and most healthful milk is not even mentioned. Maybe sustained nursing is unusual, but is it really less prevalent than parents giving their kids hemp milk?
All in all, if I knew a pretty mainstream family with an underweight toddler, a parent who was anxious about getting enough calories in, or a mom who was “addicted” to processed foods from Gerber and Beech-Nut, I would heartily recommend Give Peas a Chance. For the average family dealing with a health-but-picky kid, I’d say it’s useful enough. For crunchy folk, or parents who are looking to make their child love kale and quinoa, I’d say another book would probably be a better fit.