An avatar skydives from a blimp above a large map, into the city of their choosing, and then the game begins. The goal is to survive, pick up as many weapons as you can, and earn v-bucks for even more weapons and new clothes or “skins.”
Along the way, you might learn a few new dance moves.
This is “Fortnite,” a multiplayer video game that blew up in popularity over the past year and has kids and teens begging parents for battle passes and screen time.
“I don’t mind it because they’re not violent games,” said mom of three sons Andrea Pugliese, of the popular third-person shooter game her son loves to play. “The part that I don’t like is trying to force him out of the bed. Weekends he could go all day if I let him.”
Like many parents across the country, Andrea and Dominic Pugliese, of Egg Harbor Township, are asking how much is too much when it comes to video games for their kids.
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According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of teens ages 13 to 17, more than 80 percent have a game console at home and 90 percent play video games on a console, computer or cellphone. The data show video games are more popular among teenage boys.
Researchers have been studying the effect of video games and other screen time on children for a long time and have found myriad negative effects on children’s social and emotional outcomes.
Tech addiction expert and author John Kriger said he is concerned.
“There is increasing research that’s showing that kids who play video games excessively seem to show negative results,” said Kriger, a licensed addiction counselor and Rutgers University faculty member. “Some of the research is even showing that it changes the brain as much as methamphetamine or cocaine can.”
Kriger said the mental stimulation and reward you get playing video games releases dopamine to the brain. He said the effects are exacerbated for children who may have social issues as they can become more socially withdrawn. He also pointed to the current high rates of depression and suicide among teens as an effect of lack of human contact.
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Kriger said parents often relay stories of children becoming belligerent when the technology is taken away.
Jessica Galusha, 36, of Galloway Township, can relate. Galusha said she notices that when her kids spend a lot of time on their screens, they are needy, whiny and lazy.
“My guys are always looking for a screen, it doesn’t matter what the weather is,” she said.
Galusha said she limits video game time to one hour per day for her five sons.
Her 5-year-old twins are still playing only on Kindle Fire tablets, but the older boys, ages 7, 11, and 15, all play their own video games, a passion they share with their dad.
“Their father has a real soft heart for video games, because he’s a gamer, too,” said Galusha, a former teacher.
She also restricts her kids from playing games that are violent.
“My opinion is if kids spend that much time in front of a gaming environment, I think they would lose empathy,” she said. “They should be reading, they should be running, they need to do so many other things. When their body is active, their mind is active.”
Meredith Bak, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers–Camden, said there is always going to be a debate over the good and bad of technology. Bak was dubious of claims of educational benefits from companies trying to market a product, but said the concerns about how kids spend time go back hundreds of years.
“So it’s always good to keep stock about how we’re spending our time, but screen time and video games are just one piece of a much bigger puzzle about how kids spend their time,” she said.
Bak said parents and researchers should also look at other questions like:
What do you actually do in the game?
What sort of interactions are people supposed to have?
What is the overall culture of the game?
What are barriers for people to participate?
Susan Silipena, 55, a mother of two, doesn’t want to give in to letting her kids become gamers.
“They begged and begged and begged for video game systems,” said Silipena, of Galloway.
Her sons, ages 17 and 19, have been gaming since they were young, inspired by a former babysitter’s son whom Silipena described as obsessed with his games.
“It came to a point where if I asked them to do something for me, they stopped playing the game, but their mind is still on the game, so they look at me when I’m talking but then they say, ‘What?’ so they don’t hear me,” she said.
Silipena said there has been an upside: Her sons are both into technology, with her oldest studying electrical engineering and her younger son wanting to get into cybersecurity.
“He built his own computer at age 14. He’s very tech-savvy,” she said, but she still wonders what life would be like if she were more strict.
“It’s all in the perception of the person. I would really love to go back in time and do it again and see what my kids would be like if they weren’t addicted to video games,” Silipena said.