I didn’t know what to do when our 8-year-old son came to me in tears and said he was having trouble playing with the other neighborhood boys. Our son has ADHD and autism. He’s unusually sociable and friendly, and he’s rarely had trouble before, so I was a bit puzzled. After I asked for a few details, he told me all of the other boys play a video game called Fortnite.
Our son doesn’t play Fortnite. But even when he and the other kids are outside playing with their Nerf guns, it’s all about Fortnite, and he’s quickly “eliminated” from their game because he has no idea what’s going on.
He told me he feels left out. He wonders why he’s different from the other boys.
My heart sank. Here is my sweet and sensitive son, who’s outgoing and well-liked, feeling left behind and excluded from something he feels is “normal” for kids his age. I wondered how this video game could have such a social impact on this little kid.
I didn’t know that much about Fortnite, so I set out to do some research. I discovered it’s a free-to-play, first-person-shooter game that runs on multiple platforms. It’s cartoon-like and far less violent than other shooter games. It’s marketed to a younger audience than games like Call of Duty, which are realistic and bloody. Common Sense Media recommends that kids be 13 and over to play Fortnite.
Still, despite the cartoony feel and lack of gore, my wife and I agreed we wouldn’t let our son play it. We have a number of concerns around video games in general, and many of them apply to Fortnite.
Because of his ADHD and autism, our son frequently gets hyperfocused when playing video games. He has a very hard time getting himself out of “game mode” and back to other non-electronic activities. He thinks about the game and wants to talk about it long after game time is over. We try hard to get him to come back to a topic of more general interest, but it’s difficult for him.
I also worry that the violence in Fortnite, while fairly tame graphically, might be confusing for him. He takes things very literally, more so than other kids his age. While Fortnite is not bloody, I cringe a little when I hear the boys talk about their favorite shotgun, rifle, or how many head shots they made yesterday. It’s just not what 8-year-olds should be thinking about, in my opinion.
I’m concerned about him getting the idea that violence in the real world looks like it does in Fortnite. With mass shootings and school shootings being an unfortunate reality these days, I don’t want him to think that everything will be OK if something like that happens, like in a game. That’s why his literal thinking sometimes worries me sick.
Online games like Fortnite have an open chat function as well. All the neighborhood kids use the open chat when they play. They encourage our son to get online so he can chat with them, too.
We do let him play some video games, like Mario Kart, but we limit the type and amount of game time. And we don’t allow games with a chat function or that allow information sharing with others. (I don’t have a problem with our son joining an online race in Mario Kart. But I do have significant concerns with him playing a game where other players can type in anything they want and can hide their age and location behind a username.)
My wife and I asked friends and co-workers for advice, and we got some great ideas. One was to find some Fortnite videos online to watch as a family. This can help our son understand the basics and lingo of the game so he can join imaginary play with his friends.
One thing I do like about Fortnite is that players can celebrate victories through short dances. The kids seem to love these and do them for each other while they play. Our son is learning the dances from his friends without having to play the game. A friend also gave us a link to a YouTube video (shown below) that features all the dances from the game without the gameplay.
Oddly, our son hasn’t actually asked us if he can play Fortnite. He’s not particularly interested in that kind of game. He just wants to fit in with his friends and be included. He just wants to feel like he can join the conversation and have fun with them in their imaginary battles.
That’s all I want for him, too.
Learn more about how multiplayer video games can be challenging for kids with social skills issues. And download an infographic with tips on kids with ADHD and screen time.