Tonight I’d like to share a bit about my personal life that may be of assistance to you in your life, or in your life as a teacher.
Throughout my career, I have made a point to listen to, watch, and read the things that my students were talking about. As a high school teacher, this was a bit easier, as the topics skew towards (if not are) adult topics. Now that I teach middle school (five years already), the divide is greater.
Twenty-two years into my career, things are different as I have kids of my own–a step son who graduates from high school in three weeks, as well as a ten year old and a six year old.
The most popular game on the market right now is a game called Fortnite, which originally was a blend of Minecraft and Call of Duty. The most recent versions of Fortnite feature a battle royale where 100 players are dropped into a terrain and the goal is to be the last player standing. The game is cartoonish, and there is no blood or gore–but the goal is to use realistic weapons to kill people–and players celebrate things like headshots.
Everyone is playing this game. I just read about David Price (a pitcher with the Red Sox) who caused a bit of backlash by playing the game in the clubhouse (perhaps instead of doing things he should have been doing as a pitcher). Everyone that I know who plays the game (including many of my middle school students) says that it is addictive and that it isn’t long before you let other things go while you continue playing “one more round.”
As you can imagine–younger kids want to play the game, too. It is rated 13+, but many parents will simply let their younger kids play. As a result, all of my ten year old’s friends are playing Fortnite, and we won’t let him play it. Simply put, he is furious with us.
We make our own choices when it comes to following ratings, but we will read various sources, such as Common Sense Media and PluggedIn to help us know more about the games and shows our kids watch. We had to take YouTube and even Safari off of our kid’s iPads because they were finding them watching videos that simply left the realm of what kids should be watching. Our kids weren’t purposely seeking out those videos–but autoplay is a terrifying feature. Instead, both of our younger boys have YouTube Kids as an app on their devices, and even that app cannot guarantee that videos don’t contain things they shouldn’t be watching.
Other than the clear addictive nature of Fortnite, the other concern I have is about the game is the game’s celebration of gun violence at the same time that high school students are protesting for gun control and demanding changes in gun laws. Jay Feely, a former punter, posted a picture of his daughter and her boyfriend going to prom with Jay holding a gun–using that old image of a father cleaning his guns or showing off his guns to a young man wanting to date his daughter. Jay Feely was openly destroyed on social media for the post–yet we’re happy to put 100 players at a time into a virtual world to try to kill each other with guns, and that’s okay? I don’t think playing Fortnite will make you into a mass murderer–but can we at least be honest about the conflict between the game and the real world right now?
To parents, my message is simply this: please parent. I’m not going to tell you how to parent…that’s up to you. But don’t be afraid to impose restrictions on what your children can do, what they can listen to, and what they can watch. You can modify those restrictions as your kids get older, and you can have honest conversations about things throughout the process. You don’t get a lot of logic from a furious ten year old when you have just told them they cannot play Fortnite–but the restrictions will lead to many good conversations down the road.
And to teachers, try to be aware of the cultural trends both in terms of the overall culture, as well as in the sub culture of the students that you teach. If you know that students are playing Fortnite every waking minute on their phones, you can better understand why they may not practice, do their work, show up for a concert, or even care about school. And it isn’t “just” Fortnite…it will be some other game in a short while, or it will be any of the other major challenges that our culture will face in the months and years to come. I’m not saying that you have to change anything…but awareness is certainly the starting point of the process–whatever “the process” is.
And I’ll be honest…in my 40’s it is much harder to relate to the trends of the “pop culture” than it was when I was in my 20s. I’m not asking you to act younger than your age, or to try to be someone you are not (which always ends in disaster in some way). Just be aware of what your kids or what your students are interested in, get informed about those things, and take action of some kind if necessary.