If you have a gamer at home, you’ve probably heard about Fortnite. If you don’t, you’re probably going to hear about the game from your kids’ friends, maybe even other parents or co-workers. It’s the latest video game and app that has kids and adults addicted to their screens.
The second we see the word “addicting” we are living in fear of what it will do to our kids. But a thoughtful article in the New York Times, written by Lisa Damour, says it’s not all bad and parents just need to know how to approach the potential problem.
Fortnite is a mix of the Hunger Games meets Minecraft, so the violence is existent, but the blood and gore is not. It is still recommended for ages 13 and up, but the biggest reason it is addictive is the gamble of the win every time you play.
“It also includes stealth habit-forming features, such as an element of luck that keeps players coming back for more. As with gambling, it’s hard to walk away if you believe that good fortune is always just around the corner,” writes Damour.
A gambling teen doesn’t sound ideal, but the reality is, most app and game developers are doing their best to make EVERY game on the market an addicting app. Entire books, like Hooked by Nir Eyal, are dedicated to teach app developers how to make “habit-forming” games catch the eye of old and young. Then keep them there for hour upon hour.
Fortnite is not a “sit on your phone in your room by yourself” kind of game. It is a group sport, connecting people around the world with a network of gamers.
The New York Times quoted Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a leading expert on adolescence explaining, “Whatever kids do, they enjoy it more when they’re with other kids.”
This includes spending time on their devices at the same time as everyone else. You know when your kid comes home telling you “Jacob is getting online to play Fortnite right now!”, it is going to be even more difficult to intervene.
Plus, with the extreme popularity of games like Fortnite, the social scene seeps into other aspects of online life: YouTube, blogs, social media. There really seems to be no escape.
So how do you, as a parent, create the escape? Damour presents an excellent approach:
“Instead of being against playing Fortnite, some adults position themselves as being for other important activities, such as completing homework, being physically active, participating in family life and getting enough sleep.”
How do you do it? Set limits.
As Dr. Green notes, “there is value to setting limits to how much a young person can do one thing because it’s useful for kids to have a variety of experiences and to engage in lots of different intellectual activities.”
Set those limits and parameters with your child. Let them show you the game, teach you about it and enjoy it with them. Then remind them how important it is to enjoy the other aspects of life, including committing to and fulfilling their responsibilities. Maybe homework comes first, maybe your child needs some time to unwind after school, so Fortnite is a simple break, but then you encourage them to go on a bike ride later instead of jumping on their game again before dinner.
Another great suggestion from Damour’s article is create rewards for good behavior around the game, like offering to buy in-app purchases.
“Parents of players who are jonesing for a skin might consider offering to buy one as a reward for a period of good compliance with the household technology rules,” writes Damour.
Yes, Fortnite is made to be addicting. Yes, you might even find yourself addicted to playing the game along with your child. And yes, you can still create boundaries to allow your family to enjoy screen time and games together, while still enjoying the rest of life.
To read more about finding the joy in screen time, check out another article where we interviewed The Art of Screen Time author Anya Kamenetz.