As A Mom And Middle School Teacher, I Finally Made Peace With Fortnite

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“Skrt!!!”

I had a student who randomly yelled that out during class. Everyone would be quietly reading as I conducted a life-changing reading conference with a student about character development, and then…

“Skrt, Skrt!!!”

It takes middle schoolers at least five minutes to recover from a hilarious outburst like that, and it took me about a week to figure out that this sound was more than a lyric from a popular song. My other students revealed that this was his signature celebration call when he played Fortnite.

Ahhhh, Fortnite – the bane of my existence. My students waste a ridiculous amount of money on new skins, come into class exhausted because they are playing all night, and now even the stupid sound effects are interrupting my precious instructional time.

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I swear, I tried to take an interest in this game. I tried to make that connection with them. However, I’m not much of a gamer, and middle schoolers can sniff out insincerity a mile away. And also (here’s where I really start to sound like a cranky old lady) the first person point of view makes me nauseated, so I can’t even watch it for long. I have nothing positive to say about this game.

Now that my son is in middle school, he wants to play Fortnite. Obviously, I’m not going to let this annoyance infiltrate my home, right? Wrong! And even better is my reason for letting him. Get ready…

I let him play Fortnite because all of his friends do it.

I cannot even believe I just wrote that. I know the “friends jumped off a bridge” speech. I know about peer pressure and the dangers of online predators. I know better, and I have the tools of both a parent and a teacher to “just say no!” But if I’m being truly honest with myself, that’s my reason. Despite all of my knowledge, turns out I am not impervious to wanting my child to fit in and be in the loop.

My son saved up birthday and Christmas money for two years to buy his PlayStation, and the first thing he did was jump into a Fortnite party. The battle to compete with that game for his attention began. This battle is grueling and ongoing.

At first, I watched him become the worst version of himself when he played. I couldn’t believe the way he spoke to his friends or his irrational rage when something didn’t go his way. Our Internet is lagging! When time was up, and he needed to get off the device, it took him a while to detox before he turned back into his normal self.

I hated this, so what do I do about it? Let’s run through some obvious interventions:

1. Safety: He can only play with people he knows. No online randos. Check.

2. Limit Screen Time: Homework and reading always come first, screen time on-days and off-days, no devices at the dinner table or out at restaurants. Check.

3. Other Activities: At least one sport/activity per season, volunteer work, family game and movie nights. Check.

But Fortnite is still his default. Taking it away is also the only punishment that resonates with him because it is his link to his friends. This is the part that scares me because I wonder what this is doing to kids’ abilities to build meaningful friendships. Sick of playing with that friend? Drop him and hop into that other friend’s party. It seems like every single one of his friends is online at any time. It could be 6 a.m., and he can still find a friend to play with. It is so easy to abandon people in this world.

COURTESY OF JESSICA MANKOWSKI

My son recently had a friend from school sleep over. The friend brought his phone, and they immediately started up on Fortnite. We are well beyond parent-organized play dates (Thank God) so I left the boys to their own devices for a while. When I checked on them, they were still playing, but in different rooms. What the hell was the point of this sleepover?!?!? My son doesn’t even want to have this kid over anymore because he knows he’ll just be on his phone the whole time. They just hang out in their virtual world, and he is fine with that.

Now for the irony…

I allow my son to play Fortnite so he can be where all his other friends are. However, they all prefer to be there separately rather than together in the real world.

And now on to obsessive self-doubt…

– Is my child never going to learn how to have a meaningful, long-term relationship?

– Is the screen time seriously hurting his brain development?

– Should I become the mom that makes kids check their devices at the door?

– Should I seriously relax and get over myself? Generations before me felt the same way about television and rock music.

It’s probably the last one. Online communities are a reality, not a passing trend. I’m better off teaching him healthy ways to navigate them rather than avoiding them. I’ll continue to limit and monitor screen time, make sure he has plenty of opportunities for non-virtual interactions with other kids, and have conversations with him. He can keep playing his precious Fortnite.

But God help him if he ever interrupts his class by yelling “Skrt!”