Thursday, September 05, 2013

boy meets world

Cal started fourth grade about a month ago, which would usually be my cue to say, "Can you believe it?" but every time I say something like that I think about that Tig Notaro bit and feel a little bit stupid.

Anyway, fourth grade. It's going pretty well so far, at least academically, but I think we've entered the age where we really need to start watching his friends and keeping on top of their activities and interactions. And while this all would likely be true regardless of the existence of Minecraft, it sure doesn't help.




For those of you blissfully unaware (meaning you know no kids between the ages of, oh, say 5 and 21), Minecraft is a video game, and to call it a generational obsession would be understating things somewhat, like calling Pol Pot a pretty mean guy. I agreed to get the game for Cal because it seemed innocent enough--basically an open-world action adventure game, building things with blocks, resource management, that sort of thing--and more to the point I didn't want him to be some sort of out-of-the-loop freak if every single other kid in his class was playing this game and he wasn't. I know, I know, if all your friends jumped off a bridge, etcetera etcetera, but since he's a year or two younger than his classmates we try to be particularly sensitive about allowing him the social tools to be one of the gang more easily. Because if we didn't let him play Minecraft? He'd be, like, THE ONLY ONE. And I just hate to think about him being the pop culture equivalent of the kid whose parents don't let him eat sugar, and brings, like, unsweetened carob cakes in for his birthday, you know?

So anyway, we let him play Minecraft (which he's only allowed to play on the weekends--we still have rules and standards up in here after all), he plays it, he loves it, everyone is happy. And every time I pick him up from school all he wants to talk about is MINECRAFT and everyone's special strategies in MINECRAFT did you hear about the newest thing in MINECRAFT? And William? Told me that there's a mod? That you can put Star Wars skins on your MINECRAFT server? And also one time? Thomas was building a house and two creepers snuck up on him but then he used his leather armor and threw a sheep at them and then he fell into a trap in the nether? And it was SO FUNNY!

(I'd like to think the game makes more sense than this but suspect that it doesn't.)

Except one day I walked by when he was playing Minecraft and I noticed that there was this scrolling chat box open at the bottom of the screen, with these other randos talking to each other while they were all playing. (I'm no video game enthusiast, but I think there are similar things in most video games that you play cooperatively with people online, games like "Call of Duty" and of that ilk). Those of you familiar with such games probably won't be surprised to hear this, but the back and forth taking place in this chat box? Awful. Terrible. Slurs! Swearing! INCORRECT SPELLING.

"Cal," I spluttered, "what is all this going on at the bottom of the screen?"

"Huh?" He looked down. "Oh, I didn't see that. I'm not really sure. I think that's other people that are playing on this server. It's my friend Archibald's* server, he invited me to join when we were sitting together at lunch last week."

"OK, but who are these other people? Do you know them? And why are they saying all these terrible things?" For lack of any other better solution, I just covered the chat box with my hand.

"Oh, I don't know. I guess they're Archibald's friends. Or other people that joined his server anyway. I haven't really been looking at it. What are they saying?"

"NOTHING. They're saying NOTHING. But can you turn this screen off? Hide it in some way? Or better yet, why do you have to play on someone's server at all? Can't you just play by yourself? Play by yourself and do something peaceful, like build a diamond...zombie...hut...or something?"

So anyway, Cal turned the chat function off, and then we had a talk about not playing with people online unless he really really knows them personally and he's preferably in the same room as them. I also said he was never allowed to have the chat function on again, ever, because: INAPPROPRIATE.

He's still young and relatively naive, so I know this is just the beginning. And while I'm obviously not going to be a super-paranoic about the use of the internet and social media (see: this page you're reading right now, and the existence thereof) I am a little apprehensive, despite the fact that we have a pretty tight lid on his screen time and computer habits and who he spends his time with outside of school. Because what's it going to be next year? Or the next? Or even forget the computer--what are he and his friends talking about in person at recess? In carpool line? At their sleepover parties?

(Yes, you're right--they're probably talking about Minecraft. Because Hayden? Said one time? He got a pile of gold? But then a zombie came and fell into this lava moat that he made around his house? And then someone hacked into his server and stole his diamond armor! It was epic!)





Cal is eight years old now, which is the age that most kids start to form stronger and stronger ties with people outside of their families. So I have to let him do that, but it's hard not to worry, because even though we know his friends and know their parents, that act of sending your child out there into the world can feel like feeding a lamb to the wolves. Because we can't always be there, and we can't always filter, and can't always catch the chat box before they see it and cover it with our hand. We just can't. That's what raising a child is: getting them ready so that they will be OK without you.

In my mind Cal is kind of a low-maintenence child, in that's he's old enough now to fend for himself and his personality is generally allergic to trouble-making. (He's actually kind of a people-pleaser to an almost unfortunate degree, in that even the hint that he's transgressed in some way makes him start to get teary and apologize--at school, anyway.) But nonetheless, I'm glad that I'm going to have a little more time to spend with him now, not just in spite of the fact that he's older and becoming more independent, but because of it.

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* Not his real name, OBVIOUSLY. I actually have not ever met this kid before but I have encouraged Cal not to play on his server anymore because aside from the obvious reasons I detailed above, apparently he regularly stays up until midnight playing Minecraft on school nights and what parent lets their nine year-old kid do that? 

29 comments:

  1. I didn't even know there was a chat function that you can turn off! Wow, kids these days.

    Now that you have time, perhaps join Cal in a game or two, it is surprisingly addicting! My bf and I sometimes have minecraft time set aside...we are 27 and 32 respectively. Though Cal and his friends would probably scoff and laugh at our lack of high tech-ness within the world. :P

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  2. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Yeah, I think your best bet is to play with him so that he doesn't have to play "alone".

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  3. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Many folks in their late twenties play minecraft :)

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  4. Not that Zelda held any of that kind of danger, we used to have pizza and game night on Fridays just so we'd know who and what was going on in our kids world. The kids went home at nine and most of the other parents were all into the free night of baby sitting.

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  5. There are "safe" servers if he really wants to play with other people. My 5 year old is satisfied to play on creative, peaceful mode offline, thankfully, but plenty of other people have the same problem as you do - inappropriate language, bullies, pressure to play at all hours, etc. DIY.org has their own server and they kick off anyone who uses naughty language. It's also set up so no one can destroy your stuff. http://minecraft.diy.org/

    Also - have you checked out DIY? Your boys would probably LOVE IT. Kids earn badges for making cool stuff and there is a lot of flexibility & creativity involved. https://diy.org/

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  6. Anonymous5:05 PM

    I second taking time out to play with him and possibly making your house the "fun" house NOW while you still can. (When you hit 14/15 the fun house is the house where the parents are negligent and/or join in on the fun of drinking and smoking weed....you heard me. I grew up in an affluent community--it's EVERYWHERE. I skipped a grade and was the youngest. I also was better friends with my private school friends whom I found in summer school as opposed to my public school classmates. I know people get really passionate about the public v private school debate. I taught public school both inner city and affluent districts...our kids are going to private school. Drugs, violence, negligence, trashy parents with money exist EVERYWHERE but the numbers of those people are less in the private school environment. And of course the type of private school one attends matters too. Some of them are full of idiotic trash, some are too hard core into academics and some are just right. To each his own. Definitely plug in now while he is naive and doesn't know you're keeping a watchful eye on him.

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    1. i went to a public high school, and I'd say it was pretty separated-my group of friends happened to be the Goody Two Shoes, who also wanted to get into Ivies etc...but I do know of the less savory families in the high school (only one in my town)

      That being said, my parents made our house the go-to-spot for most anything, pizza nights, movie nights, brunches. They knew who my friends were, they knew the parents, and half the time, they and the parentals would do something while we kids hung out. Once we got comfortable with the families, it ended up being a weekly rotation, but it was implied that the same rules were applied across the board-nothing we wouldn't be allowed to do in our houses.

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  7. Anonymous5:45 PM

    Wait, you let your kid eat sugar??? Just kidding! I'm sure your aware that kids as they get older want to talk less and less to their parents and more to other kids who they consider to be "cool." Despite your best efforts to be "fun parents," this will happen. Something that can be really good a kid's development AND their parents sanity is to have someone (an adult) that you trust and is outside their immediate family be a mentor/big brother/big sister. That person can help your kid stay out of trouble, let you know things about your child that he/she wouldn't normally share with you, and be a positive role model and adviser. Something to think about?
    -Eric

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  8. All I got out of this was: CAL IS EIGHT????? lol Seriously, what happened to cletus the fetus?? And my son is 22 and it was a war his whole childhood about what he could play with whom. And then the epic day when he decided to look at naked women on my computer, and couldn't hide if from me because the porn took over my computer like a virus!!!!!! Much better blocks after that!!!

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  9. Anonymous6:45 PM

    I'm a not a parent yet, but when I think about how my parents dealt with giving my sister and I gradually more freedom as we grew up, the key thing they did was assure me that I could always come to them with any question I had and didn't have to worry about getting in trouble. "If you come to me with the truth, you will never be penalized." (A rule I can imagine can't hold true for every circumstance or with every child, but in general it seemed to work out quite nicely - instead of being afraid of telling my mom something, I felt relieved because I knew she'd be there to help me explore where I stood on whatever issue I was dealing with.)

    Someone said a swear word and I wanted to know what it meant? I asked my dad and got a legit answer. Then we'd talk about whether it was a good idea to use that word and why. Someone talked about condoms on the 90210 show that my older sister was watching and I didn't know what a condom was? I asked my mom and without batting an eyelash, she responded "it's something you use to have safe sex." Three of my friends wanted to sneak out of their house to go to a party that started at 12am and I didn't know if it was a good idea for me to go (I didn't have a curfew and could go to most parties as long as my parents knew where I was, who I was with and when I'd be home)? I asked my mom and we talked about the pros/cons (Do you know who's going to the party? Do you have a place to park your car? Do you know how to get home if you feel unsafe or drink and therefore will not be driving home?) and then she'd let me make my own decision. And have her phone by her bed in case I needed her. (I chose not to go to that part bc I realized I knew very few people and what the eff kind of people go to a party starting at 12am? Years later though, my mom confessed that she had no idea what she would have done had I decided I wanted to go to that party. Haha, she was definitely going to put her foot down on that one.)

    I felt like I could talk to her about pretty much anything and I utilized that resource because it was a safe/comfortable place to go. Through our conversations, in a way she was indirectly providing me the prefrontal cortex logic that my developing brain hadn't yet acquired. In essence, my mom knew she couldn't control who or what I was exposed to out in the world, but she made sure she was a part of me processing that world by putting herself in a position to be a non-threatening source of insight/advice/support/love/care/etc...

    Again, probably not possible with every kid. But it worked for me and my sister - two well-adjusted physicians leading as normal as a life as our call schedules allow ;)

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    1. I think I love your parents.

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    2. Thank you for this, as a mother-to-be this is very useful for me to start thinking about in advance.

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  10. My 10yo loves Minecraft (and has to earn his screen time by practicing his cello 30 minutes, which translates to 30 minutes of MC, so the most he can ever play is half an hour a day). Anyway, I think you are right on the money with turning off the chat. And yes, the whole game is so bizarrely incomprehensible, I have just given up. No matter how many times that kid explains about the sheep and the house and the gold and the leather armor (and I think zombies are somehow involved), I will never, ever get it. Thank goodness he also wants to listen to me read him Island of the Blue Dolphins.

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  11. KevinAnderson7:18 PM

    As a 27-year-old medical student, I can tell you that Minecraft is both easily comprehensible and enjoyable for people of all ages. Basically, you start out on a randomly-generated landscape and need to survive. Monsters come out at night and you can either hide from them or fight them. You collect resources from the environment to build tools and/or structures and...that's it. The fun part comes from the creativity involved. Once you've got a safe place built and have a food source the game is like interactive Legos - you can build whatever you want. I encourage the responsible adults here to give it a try. You'd both understand what your kids are into and you may even enjoy yourself in the process.

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    1. I told Cal I want him to teach me how to play this weekend, mostly so I can know what the hell he's talking about all the time.

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  12. Anonymous1:56 AM

    Yay for the frequent posts!!!

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  13. Anonymous6:28 AM

    You think this is difficult...just wait till you have to raise a pre-teen/teenage girl! The horror!

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    1. Seriously. I thought parenting would get less time consuming as my daughter got older but... in junior high it seemed she needed MORE attention. Not that this is a bad thing, but it did surprise me. And don't even think about the DRAMA that is all her friends/boyfriends...ugh.

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    2. Seriously. I thought parenting would get less time consuming as my daughter got older but... in junior high it seemed she needed MORE attention. Not that this is a bad thing, but it did surprise me. And don't even think about the DRAMA that is all her friends/boyfriends...ugh.

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  14. Sarah Lynn1:37 PM

    You might want to read Julia's (Here be Hippogrifs") post about Minecraft, and how much the 5-year-old wants to play it like the 10-year-old, and how little she understands it --so far. Very funny.
    Also, I bought some of the lights, and am setting out to be the coolest grandma around, at least for this week, and until they find out I don't play Minecraft.

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  15. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Chances are if Cal's been playing Minecraft (or any other game with other kids) for a while he's seen such talk before. You might want to sit him down and have a talk about what's okay to say on the internet and why it's important. Kids get swept up into trolling/griefing without understanding the impact they can have on the real people outside the games (if you don't know what these things are, definitely look them up). Try to get a word in now, before he's a teenager and is caught up in the culture.

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  16. Anonymous3:15 PM

    "Or even forget the computer--what are he and his friends talking about in person at recess? In carpool line? At their sleepover parties?" ...Hoping that was a joke.

    Minecraft is awesome. And no, playing with him is not the way forward. Trust but verify and let him grow into himself and his new friends and activities. It will all. Be. Fine. Have you read "the BLessing of the Skinned Knee" and "The Blessing of the B Minus"-- best advice going on how to let go responsibly. I reread the latter all the time.

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    1. Well, to be fair, the inciting incident was not so much the Minecraft but the fact that Cal asked one morning, "What is 'teabagging'?" So...that.

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  17. Ah, Minecraft. It reminds me of that Far Side cartoon, "blah blah blah Ginger blah blah". I smile and nod a lot. Has Cal discovered the youtube videos of other people playing Minecraft? I find the hypnotizing attraction of that just about incomprehensible, but it can bring a couch full of 10 year old boys to hysterical laughter almost instantly.

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  18. Anonymous4:35 PM

    My children go to a gifted school. The school has so many players interested in Minecraft that they investigated the game and decided there was educational value in it. There were so many worried parents that the school set up its own Minecraft server for students so that the dialogue could be a little more sheltered than an unsupervised server. Maybe Cal's school could do that too.

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