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Fortnite is a social place where kids hang out

A few times in the last week, the issue of how to manage kids playing Fortnite has come up in a particular context – the way that many of them, it’s not just about the game and playing it, but the fact it is a social space that kids can hang out, converse and socialise.

One Mum who I spoke to has a 9.5-year-old. She’s managed to hold out from allowing her son to play Fortnite so far, though it has been a big battle characterised by lots of conflict and upset. Her little guy is the only one in his small primary school class who is NOT playing (remember this is a game recommended for kids over 13), and therefore now that school has gone back, feels that he doesn’t fit in or belong because he doesn’t have the shared experiences of playing the game with his friends. When at lunchtime kids are talking about Fortnite, role-playing, dancing and recreating battles – he feels like he doesn’t have anything to share or reference point to anchor into, and it’s getting this little guy down.

His Mum was really conflicted and almost ready to capitulate, just so her son could share in the social capital that online play generates and the opportunity develop better connections at school.

Fortnite is a digital playground and a very very popular one at that, with over 200 million people registered to play, and sometimes over 8 million playing at a time! As this article from Quartz explores it’s like a place to congregate like a skatepark used to be (before we got hella protective of kids), or maybe like some of us experienced Sydney’s Town Hall steps a few decades ago!

So how might this Mum avoid some of the well-publicised problems relating to children playing this game but still offer him a chance to build his social connections? Here are some suggestions:

  • Play with your kids. Fortnite is not designed for kids under 13, so I think we need to be careful around how younger kids get access to it and the play they engage in. Perhaps playing with trusted adults and being supervised while playing with very clear rules and limits in place might be a compromise?
  • Talk to the school about playground programs and support. Schools are inclusive and safe spaces, where all children should feel comfortable and a sense of belonging. There is a range of documented social and behavioural issues that come out of the Fortnite phenomenon (simply from the fact you have huge numbers of ‘underage’ kids playing it), so addressing these by ensuring there are some structured play activities and alternatives to simply rehashing the online game IRL could be a start.
  • The playground can be a space where bullying and interpersonal conflicts occur without the close supervision of a teacher in the same way that occurs in class. Teachers on playground duty can be notorious for not responding effectively to reports kids make of these issues and ensuring teachers are skilled and empathetic to ‘playground problems’ is also really valuable.
  • Connect with other parents and collaborate on local solutions. This can be an awkward one, but I am finding that so many parents are feeling confused and overwhelmed by what to do, if they got together and shared their challenges and developed solutions it might be a really hopeful and positive option. Kids regularly pull the ‘yeah but Timmy’s Mum lets him play Fortnite all weekend’ line and it might seem that some parents have very different rules, values and skills when it comes to managing the digital playground.
  • Reaching out to chat about what’s working and what they’re noticing might help create some local or peer-group solutions and allies for parents in managing this. Maybe having similar rules about the time spent online, and the context that tech use occurs in (for example, not before school or right before bedtime, only after you have done your homework and relevant chores/met expectations) could help local communities not only overcome the very compelling issues facing parents right now, but also help us feel a bit more connected in a digital village, not desperately googling help to manage these modern parenting issues.
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About Jocelyn Brewer

Jocelyn is a Sydney-based psychologist and the creator of Digital Nutrition. She is an accredited teacher and has been studying cyberpsychology for a decade.

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