USA TODAY consumer editor Michelle Maltais and Common Sense Media executive editor Sierra Filucci share ways to manage your household’s attachment to media and electronic devices.
How young is too young to let your kid play “Fortnite”?
It’s a question parents have been asking of themselves and their friends. Assuming they’re cool in the first place with letting their kid participate in a third-person shooter game that’s played by more than 200 million people globally, not all of them, of course, of school age.
You certainly can’t blame those parents who deem “Fornite” a menace.
“There is no question that ‘Fortnite’ is the biggest pain point in terms of media and tech for kids today, and certainly their parents,” Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids and families, recently told USA TODAY.
Parents fret about exposing the kids to violence and an array of strangers. They lament all the loot the kids spend on the Vbucks virtual currency that buys the youngsters cosmetic “skins” and dances (“emotes”) for their characters. It all adds up to so much money that publisher Epic Games has raked in more than $1.2 billion.
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Moreover, “Fortnite” is seemingly everywhere since versions can be played on smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs and video game consoles.
It’s gotten so bad that kids are not only compulsively having a go at Battle Royale in living rooms and bedrooms, but in – yikes – classrooms, too. And “Fortnite” addiction has become such a thing, that Bloomberg recently reported that parents are pushing kids into rehab.
Michael McCullough, a father of six in Falls City, Nebraska, said he cut off his 14-year-old and 10-year-old sons from the game after he and his wife discovered their older kid charged more than $300 on a credit card without their permission.
“It’s an addiction, literally,” McCullough said. “The reward system of ‘Fortnite’ mimics the psychological response one gets from gambling.”
“Fortnite” isn’t only distracting kids but professional athletes, too.
“‘Fortnite,’ that’s my competitor now. ‘Fortnite’ is tougher than the Boston Celtics,” New York Knicks coach David Fizdale said to The Athletic in December.
The positive side to Fortnite
Steyer sees a positive side, too. Kids often socialize with friends, and “Fortnite” can help them build teamwork skills.
Epic would not comment for this story, but “Fortnite” is rated “T” for Teen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board or ESRB, mainly due to violence (gunfire, explosions, cries of pain). It gets a “12” rating from the Pan European Game Information group, known as PEGI. Common Sense Media recommends 13-plus.
In an online poll from Survey Monkey and Common Sense Media last fall, 10 percent of parents chose 8 as the age kids should be allowed to play, 16 percent listed 10, 15 percent picked 12 and 11 percent, 13. Eight percent recommended 18 or older.
Age guidelines are just that – guidelines – and every family and kid bring a different dynamic. How mature is your kid? Is the child playing at the expense of engaging in physical activities? Can he or she be trusted to abide by time limits imposed by the parents?
“As a parent of an 11-year-old and a 9-year old, who herself has played many games over the years from a similar age, I totally get how exciting, thrilling, entertaining and addictive games like ‘Fortnite’ can be,” said Deb Sharratt, who writes a blog in the U.K. called “My Boys Club.” “The most important thing for a parent is to take the time to understand the game and the impact it has on their child.”
Regardless of age, parents should establish boundaries. Maybe let your kids play only on weekends and only after they’ve finished homework. Or only if their grades are good enough.
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Australian mom Sally Hughes even suggests starting kids out on “Fortnite” with a designated trial period. “So you have an out if it’s not working for you,” she says.
Above all, experts recommend having an open dialog with your kids. Consider making them play in a common area of the home.
And by all means, play with them. You’re certainly old enough.
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