This train has already left the station…
The issue of whether Fortnite should be banned, recently discussed in the media, I believe highlights a growing quandary we have in society. A process that is already underway, that there’s no point resisting. But its one that mainstream parenting hasn’t yet really acknowledged.
We no longer live in a disciplinarian, authoritarian society. With physical threats and punishments. It’s not the 1950s. Heck it’s not even the 1970/80s, when I grew up.
But parents and teachers are still trying to control children. In almost every way we can think of.
Food, sleep, how they spend their time (eg.school), what they must learn, when and how they must learn it (school again), and how long they’re allowed to do the things they love (eg. gaming).
Today we mostly no longer hit children, so threats are based on fear and shame instead.
Work hard at school, or you’ll end up poor and a failure.
Adhere to my rules at home, or you’ll face my consequences.
We do this because we believe we ‘know best’.
Hahaha. I mean this is actually totally laughable!
Anyone who’s made the effort to take a look at themselves, will appreciate how little they know. How many mistakes they continue to make daily. How they can’t get their sleep, food, work, relationships right.
And at the other end of the scale, let’s not even get started on all the clueless stuff the people running countries/the world do.
We also know so little about how life is going to be in the 2030s, 40s, 50s and beyond, our childrens’ adulthood.
So the idea that we should be controlling and limiting everything our children do, because we know better than them, is starting to seem nonsensical.
Now Fortnite has come along. Its a very enjoyable game. Children and adults want to play it. As with all gaming, if you look at it with curiosity, and without prejudice, you will find all sorts of interesting learning benefits to playing.
And as well as the benefits I often talk about, that are learned from video games like Fortnite; strategizing, team working, assessing risk, hand eye coordination, perseverance, problem-solving, earning, spending, artwork appreciation,
Video game art installation by Lawrence Lek
Studies have shown there are:
Maybe another benefit to playing is that children would like to work towards a career in the video gaming industry, currently worth about $100bn and growing.
Or play Esports – professional competitive gaming – soon to be recognised as an official sport, and can already be studied at University in the US.
But one of the most important benefits, arguably the most important benefit, is that it enables children to play freely.
Without the interference of adults.
Something Peter Gray says in Psychology Today, and I think most people would now agree with, is essential for childrens’ development. And now with so much school, homework, and adult-led after school activities, is severely lacking in our culture.
“Children today are suffering not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”
And with regard to the ‘violence’ in Fortnite, which is ungraphic, Gerard Jones writes in his book how kids need monsters, fantasy, super heroes and make-believe violence.
Concern about the violence also seems a little hypocritical, or there’s a bit of a double standard going on. There’s violence in fairy tales, cartoons, and films we’re happy for our children to read and watch.
Many studies have now shown there is no link between video game violence and violence in real life.
The problems is, that we don’t really want to be controlling and threatening people anymore like its the 1950s, including children. Because we now know that they’re people too! With genuine feelings, intelligence and ideas and everything!
And here’s the conflict. How do we continue to control children, if we are no longer authoritarian, using the fear of physical punishments?
Controlling people is really hard work, and takes much longer, without the fear of physical punishment!
So parents firefight, beginning with threats of consequences, which don’t work, when so much is misunderstood, and at stake, from a child’s point of view.
And end with marching into a child’s room to demand they stop playing.
Pulling the plug on the computer, or switch off the WiFi.
It can’t be denied, though, that this sticks in the craw, and is highly unpleasant and upsetting for both parent and child. (although some parents seem to revel in ‘showing them who’s in charge’)
How much longer can this kind of controlling of children go on for in our society?
Surely at some point people will come to comprehend that partnership and understanding is the only way to conduct any relationship, with children as well as adults.
With Fortnite for example, the key to understanding is firstly to think of it as just a very exciting game.
Like, er, football, let’s say!
Except its on an electronic screen, not a playing field.
Like any other exciting game, people yell, get angry, get joyful.
There are ecstatic gains and gut wrenching losses.
Children may play football for half an hour, or they may kick about for hours.
Like any other exciting game it’s not something that works with someone uninvolved coming in mid play and demanding that you stop.
Like Fortnite, football players wants to see what happens next, if strategies and benefits they’ve worked hard to build up are going to win over. If parents demand children stop at any time they see fit, clearly, those children are going to be upset and frustrated.
Imagine walking onto a football pitch just as a goal was about to be scored, and demanding that everyone stops playing! Because you say so.
It also means that children’s behaviour around the game might look like ‘addiction’.
If you don’t really understand what addiction is, that is.
Gabor Mate says in his Ted Talk about addiction, that addiction provides us with relief from pain.
What pain are children trying to find relief from if people believe they are ‘addicted’ to Fortnite? And if that’s what’s happening, the most helpful thing to do is help them with that pain, not ban Fortnite.
Behaviour such as becoming emotional when playing, being upset at having to stop playing at a crucial place in the game, sneaking time to play at 3am, does not mean children are ‘addicted’.
The more logical reason for this behaviour is that children know their beloved gaming time is limited and out of their control.
They are at school all day, then they have homework, then they have parents clearly disapproving of their current favourite thing. Limiting and banning it, without understanding it at all. This all makes it scarce and precious.
A way forward with Fortnite, then, might be firstly to understand it as a game, and to understand how the game works.
By asking your children.
And secondly by discussing together the time constraints the household has, in terms of school, homework, clubs, meals etc.
Are children exhausted from their merry go round of school, homework, and scheduled activities?
Is Fortnite is much needed relief from this?
Could anything be slowed down?
Could any scheduled activity be dropped in favour of time on Fortnite? Yes, I do mean that! Please see afore-mentioned numerous learning benefits.
What do they need you to help them with?
Can you let them finish their match, or play another match?
Give them 20 minute or 10 minute warnings?
Let them know at the start of the evening what’s coming up, and agree together how long they can play for?
And also realising that like lots of passions that any of us have, it won’t last forever.
Although if its forbidden or limited, it’ll probably last a whole lot longer.
A note of caution though. A relationship that’s previously been about control may take sometime to heal. But it’s definitely worth it. For the long run too. When the very serious life problems start cropping up.
Our society can’t go backwards, to the 1950s, when due to the threat of harsh physical punishments, what parents said was law.
Unless we have some kind of Handmaid’s Tale revolution of course. Hope that’s unlikely.
It means that we’re going to need to decide how to go forward in our treatment of our children. It could mean the end of schools as we know them, some (fairly distant, admittedly), time in the future. And certainly a change in attitudes of fear and disapproval around childrens’ gaming and time spent on computers.
We’ve still got a long way to to go though. Think I’ll be an old lady before I see the majority of parents treating their children like human beings who can, in the right conditions of trust and collaboration, be just as wise, if not wiser, than them about what they need.
But yes, this train has definitely now left the station, and there’s no going back.
I won’t be replicating the parenting of control and ‘because I said so’, of forty years ago. As long as my relationship with my children is consistently the opposite of dinosaurs like Piers Morgan and Lorrine Marer, talking in the article at the top, about ‘little brats’ and Fortnite, then I’m on the right track!
Sense and Nonsense About Video Game Addiction by Peter Gray
Jane McGonigal’s Institute for the Future Gaming to improve real life and solve real life problems
Constance Steinkuehler, Professor of Education and Game Based Learning at the University of California
Daphne Bavelier, University of Geneva, Studies of the brain playing first person shooter video games.
Let Me Tell You About Kids Without Control by Happiness is Here