In the past few months I have had increasingly frequent conversations with people about their children’s (usually boys) time spent playing Fortnite. For those who are unaware, Fortnite is a video game that can be played on computer, as well as a range of video game consoles and even smartphones and tablets. The most popular form of the game is the Battle Royale, which is essentially “a mass online brawl where 100 players leap out of a flying bus on to a small island and then fight each other until only one is left” (The Guardian). It is also extremely violent, albeit in a cartoonish way (video here, for those who are interested).
In the conversations I’ve had with parents, they are often concerned about the amount of time their kids spend playing the game, what activities are being displaced/replaced by the game, and what they can do to limit their kids use of the game. One common comment is that parents are afraid to limit time playing the game, because it is the only way their boys socialize with their friends. Or that if they limit their kid’s use of the game, they won’t have anyone else to play with, as everyone else is on the game.
Not having been through this myself, I don’t have perfect answers for this. I think that setting firm limits for daily use makes a lot of sense, whether you do that through your kids’ device directly, or by using a device like Circle that limits wifi access. If you are really concerned about your kids’ use and/or preoccupation with the game, I would suggest speaking with clinical to get their input. The American Psychiatric Association has suggested criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder – this is not uncontroversial, but may be worth discussing with a mental health professional if you feel that is appropriate.
However, the research I’ve seen suggests that Internet Gaming Disorder is relatively rare (affecting 1-10% of teens, depending on the study and location). And whether or not something is truly an addiction or disorder, we know that high levels of screen time are associated with increased risk of many physical and psychosocial health indicators. Simply put, you don’t need to be addicted to something for it to have an impact on your health.
Which is why I feel that there needs to be a much larger conversation about appropriate/healthy use of games and screens among children and youth. This is a problem that is not going to go away on its own. Current public health recommendations in Canada are that children and youth accumulate less than 2 hours/day of recreational screen time from all sources combined. Most kids are not meeting that guideline. Half of American teens report texting while driving. This is a big problem.
Guidelines are an important first step, but we need to move beyond that and develop social norms around these behaviours, the same way that we have (tried) to develop norms around seat belt use, substance use/abuse, drinking and driving, and any number of other health-related behaviours. Thoughts and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Note: An earlier version of this post stated that the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder came from the American Psychological Association. This should have read American Psychiatric Association. The post has been updated to reflect this change.