Early 2018 I was pulling my hair out as a parent and doubting myself on a daily basis. There was a monster living in the house with me, and I am not talking about Nathan, I am talking about Fortnite, the game that took over my son’s life. It is now one year on, and I am very pleased to say that the addiction to this game has somewhat waned. But, understanding the game, the addiction and why kids are living in this world of battle buses, chug jugs, flossing and battling to the death with their friends is the start of how you can curb this addiction.
In April 2019, I was invited to discuss our story on This Morning. Of course, I was shamed as a parent, told via messages that I was useless and that I should kill myself because I was an unfit mother, trolled and ridiculed because not everyone had the full story – it is very hard to convey everything on live TV with a child psychologist second-guessing the family unit. With all this, I still knew that my story is an important one and one that radiates with many parents out there. The addiction that children are facing with games like Fortnite is not down to bad parenting, but parents can try and understand why, and how they can help their children.
Prince Harry has openly said that Fortnite should be banned, along with social media for children – the same week he launched his own Instagram account and topped one million followers in 24 hours. Banning a game such as this is not the answer as the game format is now duplicated in many mainstream games, from Minecraft to Battlefield. The game is played in real life in playgrounds at primary school and older children are bullied at high school for their playing style and if they have certain skin packs. The problem lies not just with the game, but the whole peer pressure and kudos around playing the game. Fortnite is not the first game to be surrounded by controversy and calls for it to be banned, ten years ago there was a media outcry at people hooked on World of Warcraft, prior to that it was Halflife and Unreal Tournament, then there was the call to ban Sonic the Hedgehog in the 90s because it induced epilepsy in some children. None of these games have been banned and now looking back people just accept that they are a part of gaming history, and Fortnite has left its mark too.
As a parent, I needed to understand fully what was immersing my son in this virtual world, to deal with any issues you really need to gather as much information as possible. I sat with Nathan for a number of hours watching him play and talking to him about the game, the gameplay experience and why it pulled kids in. It was easy to understand the addiction and it stems from adrenaline. You are one of one hundred people who start in the game, jumping out of the battle bus into an open world map to find guns, ammo, and inventory items. Every few minutes the map area gets smaller, forcing players into a smaller play area, with a goal of being the last man standing. The battle royale experience is not a new concept, in 2000, a Japanese movie and book of the same name, set in a dystopian future provided us with the first concept of this fight to the death. It was then made popular in western movies and literature with the release of The Hunger Games and Maze Runner, and in lower key reality TV series such as Big Brother. Fortnite pulls in children to this game style with its colourful graphics, fun gestures and dances – I am sure you have even tried to floss yourself – its blood and gore free so many parents see it as a safe option compared to games such as Call of Duty which are seen to be too realistic in comparison. However, where Fortnite sucks players in, it is all down to the heightened adrenalin rush which they then become so hooked on, coming back to real life seems boring and can be a hard transition.
Many kids, if they cannot play the game will watch others play on youtube videos, twitch, mixer or other streaming services to try and get the same buzz. It is the norm to find kids watching youtube videos on their mobile devices at school or even during family time as they want to stay connected to the game for the rush. The NHS now sees gaming addiction as one of the major sources of addiction, along with drugs and alcohol, but so far there are no treatment options available, especially for children.
So how can we help our kids? There are many people who will just say, “take it off them!” but kids will find other ways, and with the peer pressure and bullying which surrounds the game in schools, taking it off them is not always the easy answer. I can, however, tell you how I managed to help my son and have him understand the issues surrounding gaming addiction.
- Understand the game. Talk to your children about the game and learn about why they love it. If you keep communications open between you and your children, you are more likely to find it’s easier for them to talk to you if there is a problem or that they have got their first ever solo win and really want to boast about it to someone. Don’t be afraid to ask what a chug jug is, or why someone is dressed as a banana and trying to build a tower into the clouds, they will appreciate that you are showing an interest in their world.
- Set up time limits on your router via parental controls. Explain to them why you are doing this and that there will be no exceptions to the rules. When doing this, make sure to do this to all devices, most modems will list every device connected so you can leave your phone and laptop on, but have theirs turn off at set times.
- Change the router password. Most routers have the standard admin password printed on the reverse and if your kids are smart, they will know this and turn off the parental controls that you have already set.
- Understand that banning them from one game, there will be the same game concept in many other readily available games including Minecraft, Roblox, Call of Duty, PubG, Apex Legends, Relme Royale and more.
- Many games appear free on consoles and PC because of in-game microtransactions which encourage purchasing of in-game currency, loot crates, skin packs and DLC (Downloadable Content). Though the games are free, the microtransactions add up very quickly so be aware of what they are spending their pocket money on.
- Be aware of bullying online and offline as well as peer pressure among school friends. For this reason, I chose to home educate Nathan because of continued bullying, but of course, this is not possible for everyone.
- Use mobile apps to duplicate and control the consoles in your home such as Xbox SmartGlass which will allow you to remote access the console, read messages, see what games they are playing and even turn off if needed.
- Encourage regular breaks like employers do when you are in front of a screen all day.
- Make a rule that electronic devices such as phones, tablets, laptops are left in the family area at bedtime to encourage restful sleep and reduce blue light exposure which can keep the brain stimulated and make it harder for you to drop off to sleep.
- Talk to your children openly about other families which have had problems and allow them to see how bad addiction can be. Having them understand the risks will teach them how to notice the warning signs for later in life
These are just some of the things we have implemented in The Motherhood Household. Gaming is still a big part of our lives and will continue to be, we just have a new outlook about how it can affect families and children and hope that our story can help other parents understand that they are not bad parents and can overcome gaming addiction with a little help and a lot of communication between yourself and your family.
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Love, hugs and chug jugs,