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Dear David Coleman: 'We banned Fortnite in our house. But now my son is lonely; all of his friends play it for hours on end'

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"He has told me tearfully that he doesn't have friends anymore." Photo posed

"He has told me tearfully that he doesn't have friends anymore." Photo posed

Photo posed

Photo posed

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"He has told me tearfully that he doesn't have friends anymore." Photo posed

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

My 10-year-old son is lonely and bored. His friends are staying indoors and playing Fortnite for hours on end. We have banned this game in our house as it led to protests, rows, stomping up stairs, and banging doors…every day! We live in a lovely estate in a rural village and normally there are plenty of kids out playing on the green areas. My son calls for his friends everyday, but none come out to play. He has told me tearfully that he doesn't have friends anymore. I know you may have no solution to this, but my heart is breaking for him.

David replies: When I received your email, I was really keen to respond to you, even though you are not asking a question, per se. Your observations about your son's experience over the summer tally so well with what my clients have been telling me for the last few months. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make further comment.

I've spoken about Fortnite many times. It is a true craze, especially amongst boys aged about 10-15. As a game, it seems to have a really addictive nature and because it has entrapped such a large proportion of that aged population, it has a very social element to it as well.

For lots of children, playing Fortnite with friends and chatting to them during the game is their main social outlet…while ironically remaining closeted away, alone, in their bedrooms or wherever their console is located.

So, my heart goes out to your son, who now feels lonely and isolated because all his friends only want to play Fortnite and he isn't allowed. I do support your decision to not let him play, based on your experience of how it affects him, but losing access to his friends who are continuing to play it all the time, is the one downside. This is the same dynamic that parents face in the area of access to social media. Once some of the key members of a group of children get onto social media, an individual child might be quite socially compromised if they are not allowed onto the same social media platform.

Indeed, many parents voice their fear that their child will be left out and so are often quicker to give in to the demand to be let either play a particular game, or be part of a particular social media platform. You are amongst a relatively small group of parents who are really trying to think this through and grapple with this dilemma. Hard as this may be for your son, it is also a challenge for you when you feel like you plough a lonely furrow with the decisions you make.

I'd love to think that the group of parents who are proactively and consciously thinking about this issue is growing. Perhaps it is, but for now, it still feels like a small group. The large majority of parents seem to be allowing their children to charge into an online world with very little conscious parenting going on.

As a general rule, I think most parents have taken a very unthinking or unconsidered approach to computer gaming and online access for their children. I still, regularly, see children as young as two or three being given their parent's mobile phone to occupy them when they are in restaurants or any situation where they might have to wait.

I think lots of parents may not realise the impact this has on a child. As their child grows older, parents continue to use digital devices as a form of babysitter. Then, when the use of computers, gaming consoles and/or phones to occupy children becomes more problematic (because the child is so engaged and engrossed and won't give them up), many parents throw their hands up and blame the game or the device.

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The bigger issue, however, is that most parents haven't been proactive enough in managing their children's access to those devices or games. Slowly and incrementally, over time, those games and devices have become the almost exclusive source of entertainment for the child and the child naturally struggles when asked to give it up.

Hard as it may be, more parents need to take thoughtful and difficult decisions about how we let our children consume digital media. We have to be in charge of it, right from the outset, if our children are to have any hope of being able to be responsible consumers in the future.


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