Monday, March 11, 2013

Parenting & Technology Update

It's been awhile since my last update on raising kids in today's tech heavy world.

Total kid-world domination. The XBox is a distant memory and rarely used anymore by my 10 yr. old son. For at least the past year or so this is the only game my son cares about. Period. It's rooted in a Java app that a Swedish guy wrote awhile ago. While Microsoft paid dearly for a port to XBox, it's best driven by a keyboard and heavy duty gaming mouse. The iOS port only works in single-player mode and cannot connect to hosted Minecraft multiplayer servers; iOS devices can only play with eachother on the same LAN.

Watching my son engage with a Java app has been wild. First off, it has forced me back into the world of Java in the home (my company is a heavy Java shop, but Java on the home desktop/server feels like it died a long time ago). The client he runs on his OSX account is Java. We also invested the time to setup our own Minecraft server which he is an admin of. We whitelist his friends who want to play on it with him, and we jammed an A-record for him into DNS that points to our home IP address. Our router now port forwards the Minecraft traffic accordingly.

Minecraft has shown me the continued power of Java. Despite Apple's massive investment in App Store, the most popular thing my kid engages with is a Java app. This has yielded some challenges for me with OSX and my son's home login/account. I have him setup to only run Gatekeeper trusted code, and Java apps don't fit that bill (needless to say). Getting OSX to allow a Java app as an exception, takes some hacking unfortunately. We got it though, and his account remains "locked down" despite being able to run the Minecraft server and client.

Nearly every one of his friends is a Minecraft nut to some degree.

The other day my son asked me for a Windows laptop. Upon digging in, I realized that the majority of Minecraft users are on windows, and the client/server software tutorials are primarily on windows platforms. The result is that the first impression is that "it must run better on Windows." Obviously not true, but interesting impression on my son's part nonetheless. Without trying to undermine windows for him, I tried to explain the differences and realities, and I think he's backing off this ask for now.


  • I never share any of my passwords with anyone... not even family. As a result, we have plenty of instances where everyone in the house has their own account for a given service. PITA, but very few services support account control delegation (kudos to XBox Live for supporting this well btw).
  • April's gotten better about not sharing her important ones (after an expensive in-app App Store lesson with my son) with our son.
  • My son has a few and he knows not to share them with anyone; including the parents. You may read that and think "no way! I'll always have the pwd to my kid's stuff." Here's my reasoning for teaching kids that they should _never_ give out your password; _ever_. If you have bi-directional trust with your kids, it's never an issue anyway. However, if/when questions do arise, you can simply ask them to login to whatever it is you have a question about. In the worst case scenario (they don't comply), you can reset the device (or the pwd to an online service). I don't want to give my kids an exception to the opsec golden rule of "never give your password to anyone," and say something like "except to people you trust." There's just no need to go there and try to explain the exception with something as important as password security.
    •  I will note that my son has an email account that only I know the pwd to. We use that for registering for services that require an email address. We host the email account ourselves so we don't have to deal with "13+" registration crud.
  • My daughter has only a couple of instances wherein she needs a password, but, I'm teaching her exactly what I taught my son; never share your password with anyone... ever.
I preach heavy on password control at our house. I view password misuse as the likely most significant issue that my kids may contend with from a socially disastrous situation in their childhood and adolescence. Our accounts and passwords are the keys to our new online lives; not to be trifled with. I'll introduce them to Multi-factor (e.g. 2-step) authentication models soon, but that just feels too heavy right now.


The only version of this that currently exists is via iMessage and it's confined to my son, April, and myself. It's not wide open yet. Interestingly though, my son considered IP based messaging to be "texting." Apple's done a good job obfuscating SMS away. It's conceivable, if network access continues to permeate everything, that he never needs a mobile number to accomplish his needs when we finally open things up. We'll see....

Latest Inventory of Kids' Stuff

  • iPad mini - son. he uses this religiously everyday. watches YouTube videos about minecraft. he has his own password that neither April or I know. if we want on it, we ask him to login, and he abides. so far there has never been any hesitation on his part.
  • iTouch - son. lost in a drawer somewhere. he couldn't care less.
  • Logitech gaming mouse. son. used for Minecraft. he wanted something that ergonomically clicked faster, and that had a physical scroll wheel with tactile feedback.
  • Nook HD - daughter. she uses this off and on, but not much. she complains about wanting "more apps."
  • Wii - kids'. collecting dust.
  • XBox - kids'. used once a week at most. EA Sports games mostly now.
  • iMac - family. each kid has their own account/login. used everyday for Flash games (daughter) and Minecraft (son). my son doesn't bother with a password here. my daughter has one that both April and I know. both kids use the iMac to access educational sites that our school uses, all of which are only compatible with desktop browsers (no iOS support).
  • Tivo & AppleTV. The kids learned our 4-digit parental control passwords and we haven't bothered to change them. So far it's been a non-issue... they don't actively seek out questionable content.
Network Access
  • an Apple Airport Extreme doles out IP addresses at our house. network names are hidden and have reasonable passwords in front of them. the kids' devices are only allowed on the network during daytime hours, and this is controlled by the Access Limits function on the router.
  • all DNS resolution occurs through . this is an _awesome_ service that I can't speak more highly of. I don't have to worry about questionable hosts getting rendered on my network (e.g. in my house by any of our devices).
    • drawbacks are...
      • occasionally either April or I will try to access something that OpenDNS doesn't want to let through. we have it tuned rather aggressively.
      • it only works at the DNS level obviously, and we allow YouTube access (effectively impossible to shut down without being a complete societal rebel), so questionable videos still get through from time to time.
  • When we're out and about (e.g. dinner) and my son has his iPad mini and we allow him to use it (which is rare anymore... the "no devices during dinner" rule is well in place at this point), it's wild to watch him ask the server for their network password. he does so without consternation or concern. as a child, I'd have been petrified to do this as often as he does, but he just does it.

All and all things feel pretty good on the technology front with the kiddos. My biggest gripe would be total screen time (today's equivalent to yesterday's "TV time") for a given day. Screens are _everywhere_ now.


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