My boys have fallen prey to a game called Fortnight. I’m not sure what the game is, but they are always playing, and they insist that all of their friends are also. Oddly enough, they’re kind of right. When I called other parents, they seemed helpless in the face of this game. I don’t want to be the bad mother, but I think my children need to stop playing. What should we do?
Answer: Yes, I’ve heard of Fortnite. It’s a video game that many people play, and it works on PlayStation, Xbox, Windows, Mac, iPhones, and even Android phones. Before we discuss your issue, I want to explain something. The first mistake that many parents make is not understanding the games their children play. Would you let your child hang out with a friend that you’ve never heard of? Would you send your child to a playgroup without vetting it properly? Of course not! I’m not sure how parents could just allow kids to play any game without checking into it.
One father told me, “If so many kids are playing, it’s probably OK.” That’s ridiculous! I know of a family that allowed their children unrestricted access to the game Clash of Clans. A few weeks later, they found out that their kids were talking with other players in a chat room of some sort. I saw a transcript of the conversation, and it’s the type of thing parents have nightmares about. Let this be a lesson to all parents. Before allowing your children to play any game, make sure that you understand it yourself. If you are incapable, ask someone who does understand the game.
Let’s get back to Fortnite. This is a game that pits players against other players. There are treasures, surprises, rewards, and many other concepts that appeal not only to children but even to many adults. It’s a game with a lot of violence, although it’s less gory than similar games, and it has more of a cartoonish vibe. Players can chat with strangers, although most boys play with friends. Most importantly, this game is extremely addictive.
Furthermore, when a player gets out, they can see how their opponent was doing. This motivates them to try again since they were “so close” to winning. A sixth grader told me recently that the hardest part about Shabbos is that he can’t play Fortnite. It’s quite scary, if you think about it. I can assure you that a lot of money went into developing this game, and boy, is it working. In March of 2018, the game made $296 million! These developers will do whatever they can to keep the kids playing.
Now that you have a better understanding of the game, we can discuss how to wean children off of it. Obviously, some of the ideas listed here might work, and others won’t. If you have any other ideas, please send me an e-mail. These ideas are designed to stop your child from playing Fortnite, not from using electronic devices. That’s an entirely different discussion.
Obviously, many people reading this are thinking, “What’s the big deal? Take away their phones or devices or just delete the game!” If only it were that easy. Some parents have a strong relationship with their children and can get away with this. If it’s a viable option, go for it! However, many parents cannot. When I used the word addiction to describe this game, I wasn’t using it lightly. There are many children who are completely enveloped in the game. Parents all around the world have thrown in the towel and are at wit’s end. These suggestions are for the parents who don’t know what to do.
- It’s always a good idea to respectfully request from friends’ parents that they don’t allow this game to be played during a playdate (obviously, this will only work with younger children). However, it is important to be proactive and try to prevent your child from becoming exposed to the game.
- Are you on a WhatsApp chat with other mothers? Bring it up. “Does anyone else have a problem with the game Fortnite? Can we all tell our kids that they can’t play anymore?” You’d be surprised how many parents would join in.
- Encourage friendships with children who play other games. It’s unfair to expect your kids to stop playing if they are going to other houses where the boys are still playing.
- Make sure that he doesn’t play anywhere except at home. There are ways to take care of this using certain restrictions (not for this article). Certainly, make sure that if he’s going to sleepaway camp, he can’t play.
- Always give them a 5-minute warning before stopping play. I know you want them to stop when you tell them, but there are preparations they need to make before stopping. It’ll save you both some heartache.
- Quitting cold turkey is really difficult unless you incentivize them. It’s easier to cut back the amount they play week by week.
- One dad told me he allows his kids one hour of Fortnite or two hours of electronics per week. Indubitably, they go for the two hours and play fewer addictive games.
- Don’t keep complaining about how “addicted” he is. You gain nothing, and it’ll upset both of you. This includes bringing it up in conversation or talking about it when you’re upset about something else.
- Deleting the game without warning won’t solve the problem. A few people I know have tried it, and it hasn’t worked out well.
- Ultimately, the goal is to make sure it’s a passing phase, not a permanent part of his daily routine. If you feel that it’s taking over his life, get help from a professional.
- As a last resort, learn how to play and join him in the game. You’ll have a better understanding of the game, and you’ll have a chance to bond with him.
Wishing you success in your battle.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.