It’s the time of year when all unite in getting summer kicked off on the right foot by informing our kids that we will not waste away our brains by sitting in front of video games and other mindless activities the next several months. There will be a chart of chores, opportunities to serve, healthy eating and exercise, and don’t forget the much-needed continuing education. These are the rules of the house until around June 20th or so, when we begin to wonder why the kids even need a summer break.
Let’s talk about Fortnite for a minute because it’s all the rage, but don’t feel left out if your kids aren’t obsessed with this game. Maybe in your house it’s Musical.ly, Instagram, or Pinterest. Heck, my two-year-old is a YouTube boss when he needs a Sesame Street or Paw Patrol hit. Here’s a universal truth: if there is an iPad, phone, or other device available, these people will find a way to abuse it.
If you don’t know about Fortnite: Battle Royale, you need to climb out from under the rock. Kidding. It’s the biggest game of 2018, with an estimated 40 million players, and wildly popular with kids from middle school all the way to the dorm rooms, and even grown adults. (I’ll never understand, but no judgment).
The basic premise is that one hundred players leap out of a flying bus onto a small island and fight each other until only one person is left. As part of the battle, the players find weapons and other items hidden on the island for protection. They can also build structures to defend themselves, reminiscent of the Minecraft concept—which, by the way, is so 2017 and lame. Don’t even.
Although my son plays it and loves it, I’m not advocating you do or don’t let your kids play the game. That’s a family decision. But there are some pretty good Christian reviews out there to help you decide. But even if it’s not Fortnite in your house, it’s something else.
As we launch into the summer months of battling screens, let’s consider a few thoughts on parenting technology:
First, there is a time for everything. I love Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 talking about “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.” Solomon never contemplated a time for gaming, but might I suggest he would have if he’d faced raising kids in our times? Okay, maybe not. But, within reason, even video games and social media can have a time and a place.
When we take an all-or-nothing approach, our kids could want to do that activity even more and go to extremes to do it. We’ve all had that kid come over who isn’t allowed to have sugar at home. What do they do? Eat our whole darn pantry full of sweets from top to bottom.
Instead of taking an absolute stance, this is an opportunity to teach our kids discipline. Yes, you can play the games or hang out on Instagram if you can show an ability to get other business taken care of and quit playing without a throwdown when we tell you that’s enough. It might also be a good opportunity to sit down with your kids and talk through reasonable boundaries together so they have input and don’t give you quite as much flack when you throw them off of the devices. Remind your kids there’s a time for everything this summer, but it must be done within reason and in a way that honors the Lord and their family.
Second, let’s not let our kids replace what matters with what doesn’t. Our kids need faith, fellowship, and family (among other things). When we see that they are replacing things of significance with things that are temporary, we have to intervene. This is probably different for each of your kids, so you parent uniquely to each child. If they consistently want to skip opportunities to hang with friends or family to be on a device, that’s worth looking into. Or when you see attitudes that are inconsistent with their Christian values, it may be that social media and gaming are the problem. Specific examples could include questionable dialogue on social media, too much competitiveness while gaming, or maybe even just impatience and disrespectfulness when they aren’t allowed to engage in their activity of choice.
Third, I would also encourage you to consider what it is that your child loves about the game (or social media) that keeps them coming back. Social media gives them a feeling of being connected with others and being in the know. Gaming gives kids a challenge, an opportunity to socialize with friends, and a chance to win or feel success. So how can we replicate this for them without a device?
They may not know they are using social media for connectedness, but you can encourage them to make plans with friends. Or maybe your child needs to be in a sports camp or other activity that gives them an adrenaline rush and challenge. Or maybe it’s as simple as giving them your undivided attention or one-on-one opportunities to hang out that will trump their need to turn to technology.
Lastly, practice what you preach. Who is most likely to violate the house rules of no phones at dinner or using a device when it’s family time? Probably the parents. Nobody can sniff out hypocrisy like our kids. If we are going to effectively parent electronics, we need to abide by the “rules” and model it well. Believe you me, I’ve used all the excuses—“This is work,” or, “I need to see what uniform you’re wearing”—while I may or may not have just jumped on Facebook. As hard as it can be raising kids in the digital age, let’s not underestimate our role in staying present as parents when we are equally tempted to check out with technology.