It’s back to school time, and time to get back to good, consistent, healthy routines. Your kids need protected study/homework time, time for school activities and sports, and a consistent bedtime. And without question, it’s time to limit electronics usage. But honestly, I’d be writing this same blog even if it were not back to school time. This Fortnite thing is out of control.
Before I elaborate on the Fortnite thing, let me emphasize the importance of a good routine in your household for your children. A consistent routine makes parents less stressed, and in turn, children are less stressed. Children need plenty of sleep for them to function optimally and to learn well. Your role in making that happen cannot be overemphasized. Elementary students should have a bedtime of 8-830 pm (earlier for the little kindies, 1st -2nd graders), middle school kids should be in bed by 9-930, and high school kids by 10 pm.
Don’t over-schedule your kids. They don’t need to be involved in every activity they ask to be. And if you’re considering more than one sport each season, think carefully about whether this is a good decision for your family. Kids need time to be kids. They need to play in the neighborhood with their friends. They need evenings where nothing is expected besides a family board game. They need “down time”.
Help your children stay organized – it means less stress. Go over their homework folders and look through their backpacks every night so they are prepared for the next day. It’s a simple step that really makes a difference.
Saying goodbye to summer with its carefree schedule, late nights playing outside, no bedtimes, no homework, and fewer responsibilities is sad for most parents, and for all kids. But getting back into a routine has its up side too. Enjoy every last day of summer, bid it farewell, and embrace the beauty of a consistent schedule.
Okay, let’s talk Fortnite. According to many sources, it is the most addictive game out there. There are many reasons – it appeals to a wide range of ages, kids as young as 8-9 years can play, teens and even many adults play. It’s a “free game”, playable on multiple gaming systems, including mobile phones, and new updates are released frequently keeping players on the edge of their seats. It’s a “social” game, linking players in a virtual world where they feel connected and part of a group. Players receive rewards with increasing frequency of play – there’s a celebratory sound, earned points or new “swag”. Each “win” causes a burst of dopamine in the brain’s reward center that triggers the habit system. In short, it’s very addictive, and was designed to be so. Would it surprise you to learn that “Internet Gaming Disorder” has been added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)? Fortnite is adding lots of data for those research studies of the detrimental effects of gaming.
How do you know if your kid’s addicted? Does he wake up in the morning thinking about it? Bargain to get more time? Maybe lie or sneak to play when you think she’s sleeping? Has he become more irritable, short tempered, showing angry outbursts, especially as it relates to time allowed to game? And what if you threaten to curtail gaming time? Does this induce a sense of panic or anger in your child?
How much time is excessive? Deciding on an electronics limit is not a simple one-size-fits-all solution. The American of Pediatrics has developed a Media Planning Tool that helps you tailor your child’s media usage to his or her specific life circumstances. That’s all media use– computer, gaming, iPads, TV, hand-held devices such as phones, e-readers…all of it. It would be safe to generalize and say that < 2 hours/day is appropriate, but check out the AAP’s Family Media Planning Tool yourself and see what fits your family.
I think it’s very important for parents to understand that you are not alone. You are not the only one dealing with this. But likewise, if you impose limits, you are definitely not the only parent doing so. It’s easy to succumb to a child’s whining pleas that they are the “only one” who has a limit on gaming time. Or that “everyone else” gets to play on weeknights. Or that “no one else’s parents” are as strict as you. Or that “things are different than when you were a kid. This is how we socialize now.” Don’t fall for it. Not for one minute! They all say those things. What if you and all of your kid’s friends’ parents banned together and all set reasonable limits? Wow, wouldn’t that be something?
Bottom line is this – you are responsible for how your children use or misuse media. They watch you and your habits. How often are you looking at your phone instead of engaging with the family? You are the parent and it is up to you to set appropriate limits for your children as long as they live in your home. Here are some simple guidelines to consider and tailor to your family situation:
No electronics before school
No electronics after school until after homework, chores, sports/activities (unwinding time after school should not include gaming)
Allow electronics only up to 1 hour before bedtime (some experts say 2 hours before bedtime, especially if sleep is an issue)
Consider no gaming on weeknights during the school year
Weekend gaming time can be more liberal, but not unlimited