“What are you doing?”
If sounds like this is coming from your child’s room, they might be playing an online game with their friends such as Fortnite — or now, Creative Destruction.
When I first reviewed Fortnite Battle Royale last April (see review here), I didn’t see it as a big deal.
”It won’t be around long,” I thought to myself.” Like the fidget-spinner craze that appeared before school ended in 2017, summer will take away any ambitions of playing online games like Fortnite.”
Well, I was wrong.
The game lasted not only throughout the summer, but until now, January 2019 — and it’s still going. Here’s what I learned since that review:
1. Learn to Adjust Your Screen Expectations — I first got my son his phone a year ago on his 11th birthday. I thought we would get him a phone before the end of fifth grade so we could teach him to be responsible by the time he entered middle school. I researched how to set limits and even created a phone contract for him. Fortnite wasn’t a craze at the time and honestly, I didn’t even think about gaming in the agreement he signed, which mostly dealt with what would happen if he damaged the phone, who he texted or called, and some screen time. At first, we didn’t enforce the limit.
Then Fortnite happened and I wasn’t prepared as a parent. I didn’t realize the game’s impact on his life. He reads books, plays sports, etc., but Fortnite became how he interacted with friends and spent his free time. I realized that I wasn’t properly monitoring these activities. I don’t blame the game — it’s what kids do. In fact, my goal isn’t for him to never play again. However, there needs to be a balance, which wasn’t established when he began playing the game.
2. Screen Time Limits are Important — There are plenty of screen time limit apps for all devices, including gaming systems. When I updated to iOS-12 on my iPhone, it featured a Screen Limit, which can show how much time you are on certain apps or games, and set limits. This has been most successful (as long as you don’t forget your screen time password). I can give my son an hour or two on his phone and then it shuts off. I can do this for specific games or times during the day. Just make sure they don’t figure out the password — or this: I accidentally handed the phone back to him after being in the Screen Time feature and he changed the password.
I would start limits early. As parents, plan to rethink and adjust the time spent on the phone or device. If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, Android and other smart devices have ways to monitor screen time. Get what best works for your family.
3. No matter the craze, be a parent first — Laying down the law isn’t fun as a parent. It was easier when they were little, actually. They cried and got over it quickly. In preteen years, this is not the case. They still whine, pout and throw a tantrum, but it hurts a little differently when they are older. I want to have a great mother-son relationship, but someone has to be the adult in the room. I have learned that, no matter the craze, I need to be his parent and make sure I set the limits earlier — and understand what is involved in this new technology for kids. (See my article on “Hit the Reset Button on Your Child’s Electronic Usage” in the January issue of Northeast Ohio Parent magazine).
BONUS — They are not actually being mean to their friends, apparently, but you should always ask — Have you heard how they play with each other? For many kids playing these games with their friends, it doesn’t sound like a friendly conversation with peers. “Why are you yelling at your friends?” I asked from the doorway of my child’s room. Well, apparently, they are not being mean to each other. However, as a parent, you always should ask. Also, have a conversation about bullying and these games with your kids. While they may say “everything is fine,” keep the lines of communication open by asking, “Who are you playing with?” or simply, (as boring as it sounds) ask them about the game they just played. You might get some insights about how they are interacting with their friends.