Parenting

What worries me about Fortnite (and 9 reasons not to limit children’s ‘screentime’)

My children play Fortnite. Or at least, they’ve all tried it. They mostly take it or leave it, except for one. My 14 year old son, he’s definitely a Fortnite fan.  

Fortnite has been hugely popular over the last few years. Although I am reliably informed that I’m a bit late to the party. ‘Why are you writing about Fortnite now?’ my daughter said. ‘Fortnite’s dying’ she told me.  

But whether it’s on the way out, or experiencing a new burst of popularity with Fortnite Chapter 2, Fortnite remains a worry for many parents.

Worried exposure to guns and violence will desensitise our children, leave them ignorant and dismissive of the horrific and devastating impact of real life violence. It’s true that witnessing their determination and zealous commitment to wiping out the opposition can feel hugely uncomfortable and fuel our concerns.  

But research shows there is no causal link between video games and violence. As a species, we have a long and bloody history of killing each other, most of which predates video games.

In fact, studies show that people who commit violent crimes are far less likely to play violent video games than the rest of us. And the more we play violent video games the less violent crime there is in the world.

People aren’t driven to violence from playing video games, listening to certain types of music, or watching horror films. Anger, aggression and the urge to lash out overwhelms us when we feel threatened, hopeless and powerless. When we feel alone, isolated and disconnected from others around us.

And attempting to control our children by limiting activities they enjoy, enforcing arbitrary time-limits and manipulating them with rewards and punishment can prompt these same feelings. Feeling threatened, hopeless and powerless. Alone, isolated and disconnected from those around them. Those they love the most.

And this is what really worries me. The popularity of Fortnite as justification for imposing yet more and more limits on our children.   

Denying our children access to games like Fortnite might feel like the only option for a responsible parent, even a jolly good idea. But is it really?

The atmosphere and culture we create in our homes, the principles and the beliefs we promote and the relationships we build with our children. These are what really impact our children, way more than the time they spend playing video games…

…However long that time seems to us 🙂  

Not that I’m advocating for violent video games. But I am passionate about respecting children, their rights, freedom and choices. And I don’t believe imposing limits protects our children. More likely it has the potential to cause harm and damage that isn’t necessary, fair or effective.

In this post, I’d like to offer 9 reasons why limiting our children’s access to video games might not be the best parenting move ever 🙂

1. Maintaining good relationships with our children.

The relationships we form with our children are so important. We want those relationships to last long and strong. But life has a habit of distracting us from what’s really important. We take our relationships for granted and get side-tracked by other priorities.

But whatever our concerns about the time our children spend on screens or the kinds of games they’re playing, once we start attempting to control them and their behaviour, we drive a wedge between us. We risk damaging our relationships and the sense of safety, security and connection we’ve worked so hard to provide.

And while it can be hard when our children choose activities and interests we don’t like or understand. If we can be open to what our children enjoy, allow their enthusiasm to rub off on us and spend time learning more about what they love, we have a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our bonds.  

One of our daughters recently left home for university and so, for us, the reality that childhood passes quickly is raw. We all have a limited time to make positive memories and connections with our children. And it seems such a tragic waste to spend that time fighting what they love.

2. Respecting our children and their interests

So important for good relationships is mutual respect. And the belief that we need to step in and enforce limits on our children is disrespectful. It suggests we have a low opinion of them and their judgements. That what they love isn’t valuable. That they can’t be trusted to know when enough is enough and that we, alone know what is best for them.

I’m all for sharing the knowledge and experience we’ve gained as longer living humans. Supporting our children with decision-making, helping them negotiate the world and navigate life’s challenges. But when wielded like a weapon, laden with requirement and expectation, our knowledge and experience loses all worth. It’s value plummeting, undermined by our insistence that we know better.

Setting time limits on game playing will inevitably lead to conflict. At some point we’re bound to interrupt our children’s flow, prevent them from reaching checkpoints, saving their progress or participating in special events. Being interrupted is annoying, we can all relate to that.

And combine this with a lack of appreciation for their efforts, their progress and their achievements, no wonder our children get angry, frustrated and resentful. A bit like us, when we’re interrupted 🙂

3. Building trust and co-operation

We want our children to know that we’re on their side, in their corner and have their back. How can they truelly feel that when we give them the message that what they love is not worthy, that we don’t respect their choices and we feel the need to control their time. If our parents don’t value what we love, and yet we know it feels good, our self-confidence is knocked and feelings of shame and regret can rear their ugly heads.

If they can’t trust us to make them feel good about themselves our children may seek validation elsewhere, from others who may not have their best interests at heart. Rather than providing a safe space for them to get advice and support when they face challenges, it can feel like we’re pushing them away.

Our influence with our children is diluted. We lose the opportunity to problem solve, to work together and to act as their trusted partner in life. Our children are less likely to see us as a useful resource once we’ve shown ourselves to have ulterior motives and a fixed agenda. Feeling the grip of our need for control they feel less inclined to co-operate and more likely to resist, to deceive and to be pushed towards that we’re so adamantly against.

‘When the world is divided between what you’re allowed to do and what you aren’t allowed to do, then it’s natural — prominent in kids but buried deep and suppressed in adults — to want to try out the things people say they don’t trust you can handle. Even if it’s something you don’t really want to do! A rule is sort of like a challenge to test yourself against. :-/’  Joyce Fetteroll

4. Living joyfully* with our children

*the name of a fantastic website by Pam Laricchia and while we’re on the subject of video games, check out her podcast on this very topic here x

Interactions within the family set up a model for how our children interact with the world. Einstein declared the most important decision we ever make is deciding whether we view our universe as friendly or not. Surely we all want our children to live in a friendly universe, a world filled with as much joy and abundance as we can provide.

Deliberately depriving our children and setting arbitrary limits creates a fear of scarcity and sucks the joy out of their lives. This can work to encourage not dissuade our children’s interest in whatever it is we don’t want them to do. We’ve added artificial value and it’s likely our children will cling on in desperation, milking every moment.

‘Deprivation doesn’t create appreciation. It creates some or all of desire, neediness, curiosity, fascination, resentment, obsession, anger…’ Sandra Dodd

Spending our days as the ‘screentime’ police, peering over our children’s shoulders, timing and tracking their every movement isn’t much fun for us either. Enforcing our will on others feels crappy for us both. It’s exhausting and draining. Not only are we likely to be faced with their natural resistance but as parents we have our own guilt, despair and the ever- present fear of failing our children.

This fear can send us in a downward spiral of dangerous thinking ruminating about the danger they’re in, or about how they should listen to us. Yet it doesn’t have to be like this. Refocusing our attention on enjoying life with our children we find that not only can we share our children’s joy in whatever we had sought to limit. But also that removing artificial limits allows the activity to regain it’s natural place as one choice in many of how our children can spend their time.

5. Learning for life

Learning happens all the time.

‘Children who live surrounded by rules, instead of learning about principles, end up becoming adept at getting around rules, finding the loopholes in rules, disguising non-compliance, or deflecting blame for non-compliance (i.e. lying about what they did). These are the skills that they then bring into adult life.’ Robyn Coburn

Coercion creates resistance. When we feel controlled our natural response is to resist. This leaves us less able to access our higher thinking and good decision making skills as our energy and effort is focused on breaking free from the limitations. Reacting to limits and locked in power struggles our thinking becomes entrenched and inflexible as we attempt to protect and exert our autonomy. And this is the same for our children.

‘The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.’ Alfie Kohn

We’re not always going to be there for our children and before we know it they’ll be adults with all the power and responsibility that comes with age. Decision-making is a skill that requires practice and expecting our children to make good choices later in life without practice is unfair, unreasonable and decidedly risky parenting.

Allowing our children to experience and explore the natural consequences of their actions at home with us – staying up late, eating too much, long gaming sessions, whatever that may be – gives them opportunities to learn more about themselves and how their choices affect themselves and others. And we can be right there ready and willing to support them in that process. Rather than leave them floundering as adults attempting to learn all this when the stakes may be much higher.

6. Accepting and promoting responsibility

We have a responsibility to keep our children safe and to build strong and supportive relationships that promote healthy physical, emotional and intellectual development. By attempting to control our children we damage these relationships and the trust between us.

Focused on resisting limits, dealing with feelings of shame and believing themselves incapable of good judgement we disempower our children. They may struggle taking responsibility and feel justified in blaming others for their actions… ‘you made me do it’.

Feeling controlled can seriously impede the development of our children’s internal moral compass. Looking inward, plotting and planning how they can get around the constraints placed upon them, our children may be pulled far from their natural instincts to co-operate with and care for others.

Limits and restrictions discourage kindness and trust, robbing our children of opportunities to experience the natural joy and satisfaction that comes from generosity and kindness. They may hold on tight to their allocated allowance of gaming time and be unwilling to give this (and the tv, computer or console) up.

Their decision-making skewed, our children may be unable to thoughtfully consider what feels right as they react possessively, defensively and even aggressively to suggestions that they might share with others. This can cause ongoing conflict with other family members and a downward spiral of shame and guilt for our children. And it does nothing to help them cultivate a healthy sense of responsibility for themselves or their actions.

7. Allowing freedom to choose and to grow

When our children are free of arbitrary limits they learn more about who they are. They can play for hours and discover for themselves how that feels rather than being told what we believe will happen. They can be open and honest about their own challenges and seek support and guidance without fear of losing what access they already have.

Without time limits, our children are free to play for shorter bursts and to turn off their screens without the stress of not knowing when they might be able to return. They can consider their own and others needs without worrying what they might be missing out on.

And by respecting our children’s freedom and capacity to make their own decisions, as parents we provide a powerful model of how to live in harmony and peace with others. Our children are not driven to rebel but feel empowered, supported and connected. And in turn more likely to respect the freedom of others and be confident in their own judgement.

8. Promoting peace in our homes

Imposing limits on our children, particularly around activities they enjoy is bound to lead to power struggles. Life becomes a battleground with winners and losers. Our children feeling pushed into an impossible situation where they don’t want to defy us but are driven to exert their autonomy and would really like to do whatever it is that they love and we’re trying to prevent.

And us, where might we be pushed? Feeling fearful of what could happen if we don’t regain control over the situation, and encouraged by much of mainstream parenting advice that we really must regain that control. We can find ourselves turning in desperation to punishing our children.

Punishments might seem effective in the moment. Our children may do what we’ve asked, or refrain from doing what we’ve asked them to stop, in the short term at least. But at what cost?

Punishing our children destroys our connections, it affects our own and our children’s mental health and can leave our relationships in tatters. It can also herald a downward spiral where we need to get more and more punitive in order to get the same level of temporary co-operation from our children. This is not a peaceful way to live in our homes and without peace in our homes, peace in our world becomes less and less likely.

9. Thinking creatively and working together

Setting and imposing arbitrary limits on our children’s activities can be a quick fix. We’re worried about the time they spend gaming, be it a concern about lack of physical activity, exposure to content or influences we disapprove of, or our fears their life isn’t rich enough. So we place limits on the time they spend, in hope that they’ll develop other interests and any negative impact of gaming will be reduced.

But relying on limits, limits our thinking. We can quickly become attached to the limits we’ve set and be unable to consider alternatives, any defiance from our children affirming our fears that we have to do something. And restricting their access to what we don’t approve of seems like the logical, the safest and the only option.

It might even be effective, for now at least. Our children may respect the limits we’ve imposed and we can feel relieved, vindicated and even smug that we’ve got this parenting down pat. But attempting, and especially succeeding, to exert control over others, isn’t good for them or for us.

We’re risking our long-term relationships, sacrificing trust, respect and co-operation for short-term obedience and convenience. Restricting our children’s opportunities to learn about themselves, to consider their own needs and those of others around them, threatening their autonomy and their freedom, we’re doing them and us a disservice.

Setting and imposing arbitrary limits is a dangerous road to travel. But it is not the only option. Life and parenting is full of choices, infinite possibilities and opportunities to be flexible and creative in our thinking. Opening up to our children about our concerns and allowing them the chance to explain the situation as they see it. That can deepen our connections, enable us to work together as a team with a shared purpose and intent – to meet needs, to respect preferences and to feel safe, secure and connected in our relationships and our daily lives.

Of course, our children might still be playing way more video games than we’d like 🙂 Removing arbitrary limits will not magically make our lives better and resolve all our issues. And declaring to our children that their are no limits is not likely to help anyone. But simply allowing our children a little more freedom, without any grand announcements or fuss, can go a long way to building those long and strong relationships we’re all after. And video games are a great place to start. Together, at home, safe and cosy, what could be nicer 🙂

And if you’re still concerned about the time your children spend playing video games, using the computer or ipad, or scrolling the screen on their phones, look out for the post coming soon on what to do instead of setting ‘screentime’ limits.

Check out the rest of my parenting posts here and I’d love it if you subscribed to the blog – just pop your email address in the box at the top of this post and you’ll get all new posts delivered to your inbox as soon as they’re published.

Happy week all x

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