The kids are not alright, and parents are hoping someone else will do something about it. Last week, Bloomberg reported on parents seeking out rehab for children addicted to the popular video game Fortnite. One Michigan mom told of how her son had “been logging 12 hours a day on the video game.”
This wasn’t the first time Fortnite addiction created a stir. In June, there was a story out of the UK about a girl who had wet herself because she didn’t want to stop playing the game. When her parents tried to take away her Xbox system, she hit her father in the face. Seemingly out of options, the parents sent their daughter to rehab to treat her video-game addiction.
That girl was 9 years old. The idea that her parents couldn’t just force her to stop playing — by, say, taking away the video game console that they bought her — didn’t seem to be entertained. She needed professional help.
“This game is like heroin,” Lorrine Marer, a British behavioral specialist, told Bloomberg.
Except it isn’t like heroin at all. There’s no physical addiction, and, unlike with heroin, parents pay for the fix in the first place. You can smash the Xbox, and the addiction is over. Kids won’t be able to snag another XBox on some shady corner.
Parents don’t know how to parent anymore, and so they are glad to hand the reins over to someone else. Conscious of not wanting to be the dreaded “helicopter” parent, moms and dads seem to be moving dramatically in the other direction.
“Unparenting,” or parenting without rules, was briefly a hip parenting ideology circa 2012. Now we are moving past even that into a new non-parenting style. Parents are washing their hands of parenting altogether.
It doesn’t help that parents are frequently told that their parenting is all wrong. Last week The Washington Post featured an article about how “time-outs” don’t work and can harm children. In fact, no punishment is appropriate, per the paper’s reporter, who noted that “most experts agree that punishment is harmful to a child’s emotional development.”
A New York Times article in September urged parents to stop yelling at kids. “It doesn’t make you look authoritative,” parenting podcaster Stephen Marche wrote. “It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak. And you’re yelling, let’s be honest, because you are weak. Yelling, even more than spanking, is the response of a person who doesn’t know what else to do.”
And a 2016 article in Good Housekeeping listed 50 phrases you should never say to your children, lest you damage their delicate psyches. Among them: “Don’t do that.” “You live under my roof, you follow my rules.” But also: “You’re so smart.” “Great job.”
If you’re a parent, the “expert” consensus is apparently that you shouldn’t speak at all. Instead, just nod approvingly at your child.
The inability to say what needs to be said to our children is taking a toll. We’ve been inundated with stories of parents who intervene on their child’s behalf when they fail to make, say, a cheerleading squad. But sending the kid to video-game rehab is equally a distortion of true parenting.
In the cheerleading-tryouts case, parents cover up disappointments by forcing the squad to accept their children. The team will have to deal with having a weak member, while the parents get to skip the actual parenting part. It’s easier than telling their kid to try harder or that maybe they should try some other field. Similarly, parents who send their children to Fortnite rehab are abdicating responsibility.
We think of bad parents as those who are abusive or neglectful of their children. But failing to actually parent is a problem, too. Kids need structure, they need rules and sometimes they need to be told “no.”
Children don’t emerge from the womb with a fully formed sense of right and wrong. They need a parent to tell them that they can’t play video games all day — and then to enforce that. We’re sabotaging our children by catering to their wants instead of their needs.
Instead of inventing “addictions” for which our children need rehab, let’s disregard all the bad parenting advice and yell “Don’t do that!” And let’s put the kids in a time-out when they don’t listen.
We know how to parent. We just need to actually do it.