As “Fortnite” Blows Up, Parents Need to Up Their Game

A new survey confirms what most parents already know: Kids are going crazy for “Fortnite.” Here are some practical tips to manage it. By Sierra Filucci 
As "Fortnite" Blows Up, Parents Need to Up Their Game

Does your kid talk endlessly about Tilted Towers and V-Bucks? Do his shouts of “Revive me! Revive me!” ring throughout your home? Have you considered moving to a remote island without internet access to rid yourself of absolutely anything having to do with Fortnite? Welcome to Fortnite frenzy! You’re the parent of one of 125 million players of the enormously popular multiplayer third-person-shooter video game Fortnite: Battle Royale.

Want more tips on how to handle the Fortnite frenzy?
Get the email series

As parents of Fortnite players know, getting kids to stop playing can turn into a battleground of its own. According to a new Common Sense/SurveyMonkey poll, about one in five parents says it’s at least moderately difficult to get kids off the game. About a quarter say they’re concerned about how much time their kid is playing, and the same number express worry over their kid’s exposure to violence in the game. Here are a few other key findings:

  • Fortnite is super popular — but still not as popular as Instagram. More than six in 10 teenagers (61 percent) say they have played Fortnite, coming close to the percentages of teens who say they use Snapchat (73 percent) and Instagram (74 percent), found in a previous survey.
  • Girls play, too! (But not as much as boys.) Although teen boys are much more likely to say they’ve played (75 percent), 47 percent of teen girls say they’ve played. Of teens who play, about 22 percent of boys play at least once a day, compared to 9 percent of girls.
  • It might be more tempting than geometry. More than one in four teens (27 percent) say they’ve played Fortnite during class at school.
  • Swearing happens. A third of teens (33 percent) say they’ve been exposed to inappropriate language or harassment while chatting with other players.
  • Fortnite = friends (especially for boys). Half of teens (50 percent) say playing Fornitehelps them keep up with their friends, 50 percent say it has helped them learn teamwork, 44 percent have made a friend online, 40 percent have improved their communication skills, and 39 percent have bonded with a sibling. But boys are more likely than girls to claim positive benefits from playing Fortnite. Notably, teen girls are more likely than boys to say they have bonded with a sibling by playing Fortnite.

So, how do you manage a game that’s more fun than math class, keeps kids connected, and even has some positive benefits? By knowing enough about the game to help your kid keep it balanced with all the other stuff they need to do. One way to learn more about the game is to sit down and play it yourself (one in five dads has tried it, as have about 18 percent of moms!). Then, when it comes to setting limits, you’ll have a bit more insider knowledge. These tips will help, too:

Limit by round or time, depending on type of play. In “playground mode,” friends play together in an open world without the usual constraints of a normal Battle Royale session. This means that if you learned the trick of telling your kid they can play a certain number of rounds (which can last anywhere from one to 20 minutes), this new type of play makes those rules moot. In “playground mode” kids can endlessly “respawn” (or come back to life), which means if you want to set a limit, it needs to be based on time (like half an hour or 90 minutes). And kids’ usual excuse of not being able to quit mid-game doesn’t apply in “playground mode.”

Know how to use Fortnite settings. A big concern for parents — especially for younger kids — is the ability to talk to strangers while playing Fortnite. There are a few very easy ways to deal with that. First, don’t get your kid a headset. Without a headset, kids can still play but won’t be able to talk to anyone (unless they simultaneously call their friends on their phones). Another option: Go to settings from within the game, click on “Privacy: Public” and change to “Privacy: Friends” or “Privacy: Private.” That way kids will only play with people whose handles they know (and hopefully have met in real life). Last, turn off voice chat. Go to settings, click on the gear icon, and toggle voice chat to off.

Use parental controls. If you need something a little stronger to enforce your rules around Fortnite, you have a few options. Because Fortnite needs to be connected to the internet to work, any tool that will shut off internet access will allow you to shut off the game. If kids are playing on a console, turning off Wi-Fi through your provider’s app or device should be pretty easy. If kids are playing on an iPhone or iPad, you can use the settings within the device to set limits (or disable access completely) to Fortnite. Check out more information about Screen Time settings in iOS 12. Also, some parental-control products, such as Circle by Disney, build in Fortnite-specific controls.

What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

As VR becomes reality for families, discover the potential and pitfalls of this impressive technology. By Caroline Knorr 
What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

Everyone who’s tried it agrees: Virtual reality is mind-blowing. Once you strap on that headset, you truly believe you’re strolling on a Parisian street, careening on a roller coaster, or immersed in the human body exploring the inner workings of the esophagus. But for all its coolness — and its potential uses, from education to medicine — not a lot is known about how VR affects kids. Common Sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, offers a first-of-its-kind overview of the expanding uses for the technology and its potential effects on kids. Now that VR devices from inexpensive viewers to game consoles to full-scale gaming arcades are finally here — with lots more coming soon —  it’s a good idea to start thinking about how to manage VR when it comes knocking at your door.

Virtual reality can make you think and feel things you know aren’t real. Other media can give you the sense of “being there” — what’s called psychological presence — but not to the extent that VR can. This unique ability is what makes it so important to understand more about the short- and long-term effects of the technology on kids. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Everything in VR is more intense. Because the brain processes virtual reality experiences similar to how it processes actual experiences, it can provoke feelings of fear, anxiety, disorientation — as well as joy and excitement. Also, VR characters may be more influential than characters kids see on TV — which can have positive or negative effects, depending on the message.
  • It has major potential — and serious downsides. VR at its best reveals new worlds and new perspectives that kids wouldn’t be able to experience in real life. At its worst, it exposes kids to intense and possibly inappropriate content that feels too “real.”
  • The long-term effects of VR on developing brains are unknown, which concerns both parents and the pros. Sixty percent of parents say they are at least “somewhat concerned” that their children will experience negative health effects while using VR. Experts advocate moderation and supervision.
  • As a teaching tool, the jury is still out on VR. Students are more enthusiastic about learning with VR than without it, but they aren’t necessarily learning more effectively.

Even though we don’t yet have all the answers to how VR affects kids, we know enough to consider some pros and cons. And whether kids are using VR through a mobile device like Google Cardboard (check out our editor’s picks of VR apps), on a console like the PlayStation VR, on a fully tricked-out desktop rig like the Oculus Rift, or at a mall arcade, these guidelines can help you keep any VR experience your kids have safe and fun.

Pay attention to age ratings. Check the recommended age on the headset package and don’t let younger kids use products designed for older kids. The minimum age isn’t based on medical proof of adverse effects on the brain and vision, but it’s the manufacturer’s best guess as to who the product is safest for.

Choose games wisely. Because the VR game experience can be more intense than that of regular games, it’s even more important to check reviews to make sure the gameplay, the content, and the subject matter are appropriate for your kid.

Keep it safe. A few precautions: Once you have the goggles on, orient yourself to the room by touching the walls; stick to short sessions until you know how you’re affected by VR; stay seated if possible; move furniture out of the way; and have a second person as a spotter.

Pay attention to feelings — both physical and emotional. If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious — give it a rest for a while.

Talk about experiences. Since VR feels so real, it’s an excellent time to talk through what your kid has experienced in a game. Ask what it felt like, what the differences are between VR and regular games, and how VR helps you connect to other people’s experiences by putting you in someone else’s shoes.

Find opportunities; avoid pitfalls. Don’t let your kids play VR games that mimic experiences you wouldn’t want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of VR that exposes kids to things they wouldn’t normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country.

Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements — including eye movements — could store that data for purposes that haven’t yet been invented.