To Fortnite or Not To Fortnite…That is the Question!
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not the video game Fortnite is something that HELPS or HURTS our kids. Let me begin by saying I am not here to settle that debate! However, I am going to attempt to lay out my findings as an educational psychologist and parent of young (and teen) children, mostly as a result of an increase in parents asking about whether or not they should let their child start to play this game!
First let’s talk about what it is..if you have children older than 5 you have probably heard about Fortnite. Even if you don’t have it in your house, they hear about it from friends at school and come home sharing some of the information they have learned. You might even see them doing the dances associated with the games.The goal of the game is pretty simple: BE THE LAST ONE ALIVE! The game begins in a waiting room while everyone joins (they need 100 players to start) and during hat time, the players show off their dance moves and costumes. Once they hit the 100 mark everyone is dropped onto an island and they begin by rushing to gather supplies then fight to the end. Although the game is free, throughout the game you have the opportunity to purchase things (in-app purchases) that give you a leg up.
So what’s so bad about this? Well some would say it isn’t bad at all. In fact, some think there are many positive aspects associated with Fortnite. It has been argued that this game does a great job at teaching and practicing problem solving and collaboration skills. Teaching kids how to manage each person’s strengths and weaknesses to work together as a team. Additionally, there are others that praise it for being an all inclusive game that evens the playing field for anyone playing (gender, culture, etc).
Then why not just get it for your kid? Well..hold on…there is also some interesting research out there on the negative impact it may have. First, the element of addiction with video games is a real one. See, games like Fortnite have various elements that encourage to play and even more importantly, BUY more things while playing. The game is built on a Random reward format. This is a type of behavior modification tool that has been found to be VERY effective for increasing behaviors (in this case purchases and continued play). By randomly rewarding players during the game, it acts like a virtual slot machine which in turn jacks up their “feel good” brain chemicals and wants them to play more to get the next reward since they don’t know when it might be coming. It could be one minute or 30 minutes….either way….it is worth the wait, so they keep playing.
It also possesses the Near Misses Effect a term referenced by Jamie Madigan (author of Getting Gamers) . This states that you don’t have to win to feel a similar level of excitement and satisfaction ..you just have to get CLOSE to winning, which often happens in this game. This keeps kids coming back for more.
So these things, in general, can be a challenging aspect for anyone playing but for children and teens, it is even more of a red flag. WHY? Because their brains are in the “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” mode so the parts our adult brains, that are developed to manage and control these urges to continue playing, are not yet developed in children and teens. The frontal lobe of the brain is in charge of helping us regulate our thinking, behavior, and actions. It is in charge of things like self regulation, impulse control, problem solving, and attention. So when young children start to play…and KEEP playing Fortnite (and games like it), they often do not have the skills to be able to inhibit themselves from buying things or even stop playing because the chemical brain response is stronger than their ability to manage it since that part of their brain has not fully developed. In addition, even if they had some emerging skills in this area, the game’s format doesn’t allow them to PAUSE as it has so many people fighting to win that if you take a moment to stop you die. This causes a type of tunnel vision that doesn’t allow them to pause for questions, dinner, or even to go to the bathroom once they start or else they risk losing ground and the game. This completely contradicts our goal of helping them develop their ability to stop, think, and react in certain situations.
Here is the bottom line…
Placing the blame on this game or any game for challenges that our kids face is dangerous. There are pros and cons for playing Fortnite. If you feel your child is cognitively mature enough to start playing, then I would encourage you play with them, at least in the beginning, to help point out the problem solving and collaboration opportunities. It would also give you a chance to open a conversation about what might be happening each time they get a REWARD in the game. Start with time limits so it is not a battle later and definitely introduce EARNED screen time so that it becomes something that is a privilege and not perceived as a right.
That being said, there is enough research out there supporting a delay in introduction to screens as well as some solid support for minimizing exposure time to video games to children that we have chosen, as a family, to not include Fortnite just quite yet…but every family, child, and household is different so hopefully this little blip on the information map that is out there will help you frame your response when you son or daughter comes to you and says…
Can I get FORTNITE? EVERYONE is playing it at school!
As I scroll through my FB page and see multiple posts about the tragic school shooting in Colorado I can’t help but feel like I want to throw up with each post that crosses my gaze. I know I am not the only one! I know that others want things to change too! So what is happening? Why can’t we get things moving to make some serious change in this country?
I do NOT have all the answers and this post was not written to demonize those that own guns or even to start a debate about guns at all. What I DO want to do thought is to put a rocket under our asses to start this conversation moving beyond “thoughts and prayers, and vigils” into action. I think the level and severity of this problem have started to paralyze people through the overexposure to this type of hideous violence paired with the general message that this is to be expected that has overtaken our collective mind.
So here is where I think we should start…..
Take a look at the faces of the children in these photos and videos. Guess what people???? These are the children that will be moving into positions of power in our country. Developing and running programs, making political decisions for our country and the world, and raising children themselves. The pain you see on their faces…that is BIG and real but truly only a small portion of the trauma that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Trauma that will influence their personality, decisions they make as adolescents and then adults. The same adults that will be in charge soon. We can argue all we want about gun control but the underlying issue surrounding each and every one of these school shootings is ONE THING…..
I have worked as an educational psychologist for over 20 years now and I can tell you that the statistics match my observations. I first became a school psychologist in 1999, the same year that the Columbine shooting happened. Since that time I have watched our educational system turn from one that children felt safe and secure to learn, to a system that is ready to begin arming teachers with guns and trains children to protect and defend themselves as if they are in a war zone. Our children are suffering! There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children and teens with anxiety in our country. The CDC documented that this increase, in 2012 (7 years ago by the way) is about 1 in 20 children diagnosed. In this study, children :
“Ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6–17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012.
“Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.
“Ever having been diagnosed with depression” did not change between 2007 (4.7%) and 2011-2012 (4.9%).
On top of that there is a huge number that need help but are not getting it. According to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report., 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment. WHAT???? Please tell me you find this as alarming as I do!
In my field there is constant chatter surrounding why this increase might be taking place. I have heard things from helicopter parenting to the introduction of technology as a part of everyday life, to providing too much of a focus on academic rigor. I can’t say that any or all of these things do not have an impact on our kids and their mental health. I’m sure they all do to one extent or another but let me be clear… When children are regularly practicing drills to protect themselves and their friends from a person that might be coming into their school and shooting them at ANY time; When they are continuously exposed to news that YET another school shooting as happened (sometimes in their backyard); When they see the adults around them doing NOTHING to make changes to protect them…
The result is that they start to internalize helplessness. They start to come to the conclusion that these drills are happening because there is a VERY good chance that this could happen to me and no one in my world is doing anything to change that so I better be afraid and alert.
Basically, we are conditioning our children of tomorrow to be deathly afraid of today. We are re-wiring their brains to be in a constant state of fight or flight which is leading to an increased state of cortisol in their bodies. Research has shown that this constant rise of cortisol has long-term damaging effects to children in both their brain functioning as well as their overall health. We are literally damaging our children people!
So you wonder why there is a rise in anxiety with our children and teens over the past 10 years or so? Do a little research and you will find that there have been 230 school shootings (up until April 19, 2019). In 2019 alone here is the list:
January 31 – Memphis
February 8 – Baltimore
February 12 – Kansas City
February 26 – Montgomery Alabama
April 1, Prescott, Arkansas
April 30, Charlotte, NC
May 7, Highlands ranch, CO
THAT AVERAGES TO MORE THAN ONE PER MONTH!
Did you know that The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of students to school counselor is 250:1;
The national average is over 482:1
the recommended ratio for school psychologists is 500-700:1
The national average is over 1300:1
the recommended ratio for school social workers is 400:1
The national average is over 800:1
As you can see the national averages are over double the recommendation in all areas of mental health professionals. I am ending this blog with a desperate plea to each person reading this. Please take just 5 minutes out of your day to invest in making a change. What time is a better time to write your local political representative to advocate for this issue then right now…MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH and we, as a country need some fucking collective self-awareness! Wondering where to start…start here:
Find Your Representative here and reach out to tell them you want them to support more mental health resources and staff in schools