In most of our homes, our children’s relationship to video games is simple: they want more while we want less. “Five more minutes, and then you turn off the TV,” we say with authority. In other households, a little screen time can be a moment for parents to rest while an extra-boisterous child is preoccupied with the fantasy world of Sonic, Minecraft, or Fortnite. It was the former in Tom Vanderbilt’s home until he decided to try Fortnite with his daughter. Wired recently published the personal essay he wrote about his experience.
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When Vanderbilt’s daughter, Sylvie, told her parents that she wanted to play Fortnite, they were reluctant. It seemed too violent. After intense campaigning, she convinced them to let her try it, but there was a condition –she would have to play with her dad so that he could see whether it was appropriate or not. Sylvie’s dad didn’t expect that playing Fortnite together would become a bonding experience, and ultimately, a way for Sylvie to find new learning experiences.
Vanderbilt writes that at first, they took turns seeing who could last the longest, but soon, he found himself buying a second gaming console as a “reward” for her good behavior. Really, he just wanted the old one to himself. That’s when the two started joining squads with Sylie’s friends.
Vanderbilt felt a little self-conscious about playing Fortnite with his daughter. He was aware of an SNL sketch that pokes fun at fathers trying to bond with their children through Fortnite. Vanderbilt didn’t want to seem like a weirdo. In the end, it didn’t feel strange, and it opened up new communication between the father and daughter.
Vanderbilt says that many games that we play with our children, like tennis, are much easier for adults to win. Adults make most of the calls in kids’ lives. Playing video games together can be a moment of empowerment for children. The playing field is more leveled because parents often don’t have the experience. Children honestly win and that makes them feel good.
Video games can be addictive too, though, and Vanderbilt points out that Fortnite has all of the components like levelling up and rewards to suck players in. He says that people need to play mindfully –they need to be aware of how long they are playing, and how they’re feeling. He points out that his own daughter chided him for wanting to improve his skill by battling instead of practicing in creative mode.
“Fortnite Parenting” is this: playing with your child and discussing the games together. At first, having fun but then that fun leads to deeper bond and conversation. It’s about taking the time to understand something that your child loves and share that with them, whether it’s Fortnite or a different passion.
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