Tag Archives: Minecraft

Talk To Your Kids About Online Predators

By Tracey Dowdy

Trigger Warning: Links contain sensitive information

If anything has defined 2020, it’s excess screen time for our children. They’ve been online more often and for more extended periods, becoming more familiar and comfortable with the wild west of the internet. As a result, some are beginning to push boundaries and explore what’s out there. While that’s not in itself a bad thing, there are risks, particularly regarding online predators. According to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, there’s been a 200 percent increase in online sexual predator cases during the pandemic.

Louisiana Internet Crimes against Children Commander Corey Bourgeois said, “Parents are saying hey go do this, go play Fortnite, go play on your IPad, go play Xbox so your parents can work, and I believe that that led to a lot, a lot more solicitation of minors.”

Last year, Sloan Ryan wrote a piece for Medium (Trigger warning – the article contains graphic information), exposing the prevalence of online predation. As the frontline of defense for our children, it’s our responsibility to educate and protect them. Age-appropriate conversations and parental controls about how predators operate in the digital age can help keep your children safe online and in real life. 

Predators are everywhere.  Most parents know that social media and chat rooms can be a minefield, but what you may not know is that predators lurk in unexpected places like Bible appsFitbit chatrooms, even FortniteMinecraftClash of Clans, and Roblox chatrooms. Ensure you have all parental controls in place and encourage your children to talk to you if someone says something or if they see something that makes them uncomfortable. 

Abuse can happen online as well as in person.  Abuse doesn’t need to be in-person. Children can be traumatized by images, conversations, or videos. This distress can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression or manifest physically through insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, and eating disorders. Keep online devices in common areas where you can see what’s happening, and if necessary, consider installing additional parental control software to limit access to the internet. 

Talk to your kids about warning signs.  Predators groom children before they take advantage of them. It begins with friendship, then moves to a more intimate relationship. Perpetrators then engage in conversations to help determine how vulnerable and isolated a child is – the more vulnerable, the more likely the relationship will become abusive. Be aware that once the child has become a victim, the abuser will use gas-lighting, threats, and crushing the victim’s self-esteem to maintain the relationship. 

How do I talk about predators with my child?  If your child is old enough to be online, they’re old enough to have conversations about safety. An excellent place to start is by setting up a Family Technology Contract. Once you’ve agreed to boundaries and the consequences of crossing the line, talk about what to look out for. Remind them not to share any personal information like their name, address, or their school. Talk about the risks and the importance of telling you if someone says or does something that upsets them. Assure them they won’t be in trouble if someone else has done something wrong. 

If they have been victimized, stay calm. While this is an emotional and traumatic experience for both of you, your child needs to know they are safe and loved at home. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t panic. Do NOT reach out or try to confront the predator yourself – they’ll disappear and make it much harder for law enforcement to track them down. Instead, save or take screenshots of any messages and images they’ve sent – don’t delete. Block them so they can’t make further contact and immediately report them on any platform where they interacted with your child. Report the offender to local authorities and the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline

If you or your child need additional support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online.  Or, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (2-24453). 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Video Games To Help Kids with Special Needs

By Tracey Dowdy 

The rules about screen times became obsolete once virtual learning became the norm. Trying to balance how much is too much has long been debated, but there is no question that educators and parents can help students strengthen skills through play. It’s a proven strategy to help kids learn.

Video games offer particular advantages to students with special needs. These students can improve communication, small motor skills, spatial and organizational skills, and even improve their social skills through gaming. 

While many games are designed to improve specific skills geared to special needs children, many mainstream games offer similar benefits. Here are a few. 

Communication Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, says, “Games that use visual storytelling, social modeling, and language patterns can help kids with speaking, listening, and communicating.” Suggested games: Moving OutOvercookedAmong UsKeep Talking, and Nobody ExplodesThe Jackbox Party Pack 7.

Motor Skills Games that encourage your kids to get up and get moving, whether dancing, sports, stretching, drawing, or handwriting, will improve muscle memory and put a name to an action. Suggested games: Beat SaberJust Dance 2021Ring Fit Adventure

Organization Children who struggle with executive functioning skills – transitioning between activities, time management, completing a list of tasks, developing a new routine – struggle in areas neurotypical children find less complex. Playing games that emphasize visual scheduling or break down lists into more manageable tasks help build confidence and equip them with the tools to accomplish more than they thought they could do. Suggested games: MinecraftNintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety KitDreams.

Reading and Writing Children who struggle with written rather than verbal instructions will benefit from games that offer both and break down instructions into small steps and allow players to focus on their strengths. The confidence boost enables them to face more demanding challenges, expanding their vocabulary and reading and writing skillsets. Suggested games: Elegy for a Dead WorldLayton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe EditionScribblenauts Mega Pack.

Social Interaction Some special needs children need help learning to identify facial expressions, the appropriate time to wait for responses during conversations. These games offer safe, supported chatting that can go a long way in developing practical social skills. Suggested games: Assemble with CareUnravel;  Doki Doki Universe.  

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Road Trip Apps to Keep Younger Kids Entertained

By Tracey Dowdy

There seems to come a point in most road trips where half the passengers are bored and the other half have had enough. I think we both know that splits pretty much down the parent/kid divide. To keep that from happening, here are a few suggestions to keep everyone happy and entertained during your Holiday road trip.

Pre-School

Wheels on the Bus

wheels-on-the-busThe Wheels on the Bus app is an interactive version of the classic children’s song. Kids can use the touch screen to make the bus move, open the doors, swish the wipers and other fun movements. The song plays in five languages and you can even record your little one singing along.

Recommended ages: 3+
Price: iOS, Android –  $1.99


Road Trip Bingo

road-trip-bingoSure you can play without an app, but Road Trip Bingo makes it even more fun! Keep an eye out for hundreds of items from license plates to animals and check them off on your bingo card. The HD version allows for two players.

Recommended ages: 4+
Price: iOS, Android – $1.99


Family Travel Games for Kids

fun travel gamesFamily Travel Games for Kids (iOS) and Fun Family Car & Travel Games! (Android) offer loads of family games, including many the driver can play. The apps are a great option for kids who get car sick, as many of the games don’t involve reading or looking at a screen for extended periods of time. Sort by age, type of game like word games or quizzes, and even classics like “Name That Tune”.

Recommended ages: 4+
Price: iOS – $1.49; Android – $0.99

Elementary

Rory’s Story Cubes

rorys-storyRory’s Story Cubes is the app version of a dice game designed to promote imagination and creativity in your kids. Simply shake the device to “roll” nine six-sided dice. Each side of the device has a simple picture like a star, a letter or a bug which the child then uses to create a story. The possibilities are endless and limited only by your child’s imagination.

Recommended ages: 7+
Price: iOS – $1.49, Android – $1.99


Minecraft – Pocket Edition

minecraft-pocketMinecraft – Pocket Edition is the app version of the popular PC based game that places players in an open setting with no structures, objectives or other people. Players must create buildings from what they harvest around them to create their own environment. Play can be with or without monsters, so the focus can be on creativity and not survival.

Recommended ages: 8+
Price: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire – $6.99


Rush Hour

rush-hour-1While dad navigates through traffic upfront, the kids can do some back seat driving with Rush Hour. Players slide cars around a grid with an objective to get the red car out of the parking lot. For the best score complete the maze in the fewest number of moves and each level is successively more difficult. Players who get stuck can opt to get hints or watch the puzzle get solved.

Recommended ages: 8+
Price: iOS –  $2.99

Of course you don’t need an app to make the most of that time together. Play games that cross ages and interests like Would You Rather? or Twenty Questions. Another great option is to download a listening app like Audible and have the whole family listen to a book as you travel. Or you can create a Family Holiday Road Trip 2014 playlist on Spotify. To keep it interesting, let everyone contribute some of the music so you’re not stuck with two hours of the Wiggles or The Best of Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Your road trip doesn’t have to be an endurance test. It can be an opportunity to make some great family memories.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.