Twas the Fortnite before Christmas
When all through the house
The only thing stirring was the computer mouse
Johnny was playing Fortnite with care
Hoping his parents wouldn’t notice or care
Mom and Dad were nestled in bed
Johnny was trying to make everyone dead
His eyes how they focused, his body so tight
He had been playing Fortnite nearly all night
If you are concerned about your kids staying up all night or spending their entire Christmas vacation playing Fortnite or focused on other screen-based activities, you are not alone. Spending hours playing with new toys is a Christmas tradition, and there is no reason to become overly restrictive with your child’s playtime on the holidays. Given the preponderance of technology-based toys available in 2018 and that two-thirds of families will be purchasing tech gifts, your child is likely to have new video games, mobile technologies, or computers with which to play. I have already talked to at least a dozen pre-teen boys who have mentioned the holiday break as a time to play Forntite with their friends or who are looking forward to receiving Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a gift. (By the way, the good news about Fortnite is that it won’t cost parents much to give their kids. For the most part, the game is free, other than in-game purchases.) With so many technology gifts available to children, parents may want to encourage playtime that goes beyond screens. You will need to work especially hard to make other activities as engaging as screens and find ways to get your kids outdoors.
Parents frequently ask me if they should allow their kids more screen time during the holidays. I strongly encourage kids to have more play and downtime during vacations. They already have enough demands with school and extracurricular activities. Rather than viewing the dilemma of too much screen time during vacations as a problem, I strongly encourage parents to see it as an opportunity to engage in conversations with their children about their use of screens and digital media. It’s also a chance for parents to look at their own use of screens and digital media. Given that adults appear to spend as much time as teenagers (about 9 1/2 hours a day) with screens, it’s a chance for the family to understand the use of screens and to consider New Year’s resolutions for screen time.
Here are some strategies for engaging in fruitful conversations with your teenager or preteen about screen time, playing too much Fortnite or Minecraft, and making good decisions about media use:
Get some data. To initiate a useful conversation about screen time and digital media use, get a better idea of how much is screen time is occurring. It’s easy for users of Apple products to do this, as Apple’s new Screen Time app is available to users who have downloaded ios12 on their iPhones or iPads. Users can set Screen Time to keep track of all their families’ Apple devices, which is a great way to collect the data. Similar technologies are available for devices using Android operating systems, including Family Link. These apps are easily programmable and can help all family members see what they are doing on screens. While this does not measure when kids are using console-based video games or tech that belongs to others, it is a great conversation starter. Parental monitoring apps are also available to keep track of when technologies such as television are being used.
Of course, collecting the data during the week between Christmas and New Years Day may not be the best idea due to it being vacation time and all the new toys, so it may be best to consider collecting your data after the first of the year. But start the conversation beforehand if you are going to let your kids have free range with technology play over their vacation.
In general, I suggest choosing just a few of the following topics to discuss, starting with the amount of screen time. These include:
- How much time is being used with screens?
- What type of content and activity is being accessed?
- With whom are your kids communicating/playing, and how much do they engage in solo activities?
- When are they using screens: at school, late at night?
- Are screens getting in the way of other activities, including sleep?
- Are screens they impacting school performance?
- Have you gotten lost in your screen time and, as a result, had less time to do other activities?
- Have interests changed as a result of the time you spend time with screens?
- What things about spending time with screens make you happy?
- What are the negative aspects of screen time that you might experience (such as feelings of irritability, stress from peer relationships, anxiety, or being distracted from other things)?