There probably isn’t a parent out there with a son aged between aged 5 upwards who hasn’t heard of the online game Fortnite. To me, I have to say it’s the most boring game in history. Like, you run around wearing strange costumes with a hamburger for a head…right. But, my son like all his mates at school is obsessed with it. And when I say obsessed, I mean like uber obsessed. It’s all he talks about, thinks about and all he wants to do. So, his dad and I limit play time. We thought that was the best way to head off the obsession. I’m not a huge fan of online games anyway, for one I think they’re mind numbing. Secondly, they are dangerous. The idea that my 6 year old can chat to absolute strangers of all ages from all around the world through his headpiece is down right terrifying, am I right? So when the game first came out and Master L begged to play it, I followed a couple of simple steps in order to keep him safe:
- I logged on and played the game myself first. Seems bizarre I know, but it allows me to understand the game, how it works and all its features.
- I changed the privacy settings. Master L plays on Playstation, so his dad was better at this than me as I’m a Playstation/gaming tragic. I literally have no idea how to even drive the things. The last time I played a video game was Super Mario Bros back on Super Nintendo…yikes. However, we changed the settings so that when he was playing with “randoms” the voice function was muted, so he could not hear them nor talk to them. So if some creepy man from the other side of the world wanted to talk to him, he couldn’t hear them.
- Educate your child. Right, so we all know stranger danger right? Well in this modern era, stranger danger doesn’t just take the form of people children meet face to face. More likely, stranger danger will come in the form of online danger. So, teach your child. Educate them that there are no so nice people out there who should be avoided. This worked well in our house. My son has always been super trusting of people, he loves people. While this is a great trait in certain ways, it is also very bad in others. I weighed it up, should I allow him to keep seeing the world as a beautiful rosey place where nothing bad ever happens? Or should I teach him that hey, there is evil in the world that should be avoided at all costs? Well, the answer is rather simple. I sat him down and explained to him that there are nasty people out there who try to talk to young children on the internet. I didn’t need to go into great detail about why they do it, what their motive or end game is because this is just too much for him to digest. I explained instead that some people are rude to little kids or teach them bad words and that was enough for him to understand why I wanted him to steer clear of them.
- Monitor your child’s friends list. Do you know who these people are? Obviously each child has a “username” which makes it impossible to identify them. So I spoke to the mothers of the friends my son said he wanted to play with and I got all of their usernames, that way I could identify each child and approve the friend requests that were coming through.
- Check the profiles of unknown users who are trying to befriend your child. I’ll admit a few came through that my son just accepted without telling me so I viewed their profiles. Turns out because my son was logged into his dads account using his username, some of his dads friends added him. I confirmed that we knew each person there and if we didn’t, that person was immediately blocked. In my opinion any adult who wants to befriend a child they don’t know online has sinister motives. This might be a doom and gloom way of looking at the world but hey, if it keeps my child safe them so be it.
- As mentioned, Master L plays on the Playstation. That Playstation is in the main lounge room of the house. It will remain that way so that I can sit next to him and watch what he is doing. The idea of him sitting on his iPad in his bedroom without any form of monitoring is just plain silly. Be involved in what your child is doing. If they know you are monitoring their every move, they are more likely to play by your rules.
- Set clear rules. No adding random strangers without my permission. Play with mates in “parties” only. Tell me if someone you don’t know tries to talk to you. Have consequences should these rules be broken. Banning the game is like telling my son I’m going to take him right arm away, so that being said he will play by the rules or suffer the consequences.
- Limit the time they are allowed to play. With our busy lives, it is easy to just let them play their Playstation or iPad that little bit longer just to get some work done or a moments peace, you have to think what are the consequences in the long run? We are all guilty of it, I will be the first to admit I have done it. However, I absolutely notice a change in my son’s behaviour when he plays the game too much as opposed to times when I refuse to allow him to play it. Studies have shown that screen time does alter the chemistry in a child’s brain, so try at all costs to limit game time.
Despite all this, to say it has been a smooth run would be a lie. Currently, Fortnite is banned in our house. Why? Because Master L’s behaviour was gradually getting worse and worse. He was falling asleep in class and having random unexplained meltdowns. When we discovered he was waking up at midnight, sneaking into the lounge room to play Fornite for 5 hours before being told to go back to bed, the game was immediately banned. Despite daily protests, it remains that way. Gaming addiction is absolutely real, like any addiction it rules my son’s mind. It is something that we as parents need to be acutely aware of and to manage as best we can as we all know these games aren’t going away in a hurry.