Oh, Fortnite. I’ve been dragging my feet to post this, but the more I’ve talked with fellow moms the more I realize I’m not alone in these sentiments and the challenges of parenting in this technology age.
My son downloaded Fortnite on his 14th birthday in November and began learning the ins-and-outs of the game. He asked for a headset for Christmas and mentioned he’d like to play online with his buddies. Hmm. I convened with my husband (who knows these video games much better than I do yet shares in the same cautious sentiments), and we agreed with strict guidelines.
Now we’re months into the game, and let’s just say it’s not my favorite. But before I climbed on my high horse, I decided I better learn the game and get into the mind of a teenage boy. Lord, help me. I asked my patient son to teach his crazy mom how to play. I entered the world by way of a Mary Poppins umbrella, hid behind the bushes, gathered some resources, chose my weapon, and tried to avoid danger. And eventually a sniper swiftly took me out. Violent (Although I just fell over when I died, no blood or graphics, which makes it seem less disturbing yet still poses a danger to impressionable minds). In a game of 100 players, I outlasted 70 people, thank you very much. I now at least get it. Slightly.
But, this is some of the trouble …
… Isolation. Sure, our son is playing with his friends and talking with them, but he is essentially by himself. Eye contact lost. Pseudo-bonding occurs through building refuge, gathering resources and trying to be heroes. I get it, kind of, but it falls flat in comparison to meaningful interactions. My son’s friends have turned down social gatherings to play Fortnite … alone but with each other. Everyone in his own cave. What is happening?
… Profanity. Common Sense Media’s review explains, “While the game doesn’t feature any profanity, its online nature could expose younger players to offensive language from random strangers in voice or on-screen text chat.” Um. You think?! You’re playing a war game with people you potentially don’t know.
… About those “random strangers” mentioned above. Red flag anyone? Anyone? My friend’s 13-year-old played with someone he didn’t know and was asked where he lives. Thank goodness he only said “The United States”. For a game with reviews from eight-year-olds, this is more than troublesome. Think about it: your undeveloped-frontal-lobed-child is playing with a stranger. That stranger helps your child be a hero or saves your child in the game, trust is built, the stranger talks to him, potentially feeds him candy-out-of-a-white-van, your child answers questions and is sucked into the trap before they even know it. Talk to your kids. And by golly, don’t let them play with anyone they don’t know. At all. Period.
… The New “F” Word. My husband leads an eighth grade boys Bible study every Thursday morning, and because Fortnite was coming up so much and completely derailing discussion it is now the new “F” word banned for that hour. My husband says it’s like the squirrels in the movie Up! when they see a dog. Squirrel!
Last Thursday when the boys hopped in my car afterwards, they immediately began talking about the “F” word. One of them said half kidding, “What else is there to talk about?” Ha!
Yet I’ve learned nothing stops the “F” word quicker in the car than turning on nursery rhymes. These eighth grade boys with one foot exiting childhood and the other foot entering manhood break out in B-I-N-G-O and Mary Has a Little Lamb with my toddler like nobody’s business. It’s plain awesome and a gentle reminder of their tender hearts.
In an age where depression, anxiety and isolation are on a cataclysmic rise, we need to be careful, vigilant, aware, and setting boundaries so the abyss of Fortnite (among social media and other things) doesn’t suck their brains, valuable true relational interactions and these precious years away.
As we nurture these hearts entrusted to us, may we do it with grace, wisdom and link arms in the battle. We need each other. And from time to time, maybe we need to power off our electronics, turn on a nursery rhyme and realize how quickly the years go by.