Are parents over the top for hiring video game tutors?

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Personally, I prefer my kids being outside instead of sitting in front of a screen.

A WSJ article called “Ready, Aim, Hire a ‘Fortnite’ Coach: Parents Enlist Videogame Tutors for Their Children” by Sarah E. Needleman, caused a furor this week. I’ll admit I stopped paying attention to gaming after my kids left home. The extent of my own video game experience was Mario Brothers and tennis on the Wii. My son liked to play Zelda and he used his GameBoy Color to play Pokemon. I guess you could say we weren’t a big video game family.

When my dad emailed me an article about parents hiring coaches for “Fortnite,” I realized I had no idea what Fortnite was! Since then I’ve learned that it’s a hugely popular video game with millions playing worldwide. Parents are hiring online tutors so their kids get better at the game, much as we hired Coach Todd to help my kids with their stroke technique in swimming. Why would parents hire tutors to help their kids play a game? There are many reasons including huge monetary rewards and even college scholarships. Who knew? Even my daughter’s college the University of Utah introduced Varsity Esports as a thing.

“The U and its nationally ranked Entertainment Arts & Engineering video game development program announced today that it is forming the U’s first college-sponsored varsity esports program. Utah esports will compete in multiple games and has confirmed the industry leading League of Legends as its first game with additional games to be announced shortly. The esports program is the first of its kind from a school out of the Power Five athletics conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern).

“Esports has had a dramatic rise in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years – especially on college campuses,” said A.J. Dimick, director of operations for the U’s new esports program. “We think college esports is a great opportunity and we want our students to be part of it.”

The U’s esports program will be sponsored by the EAE video game development program, which has been ranked the No. 1 video game design program in the nation for three of the past five years by The Princeton Review.”

Here are some excerpts from the WSJ:

“It’s not the violence or the addiction of the hit game that bothers mom and dad—it’s the losing.”

Ally Hicks fretted over her 10-year-old son playing the hugely popular shoot-em-up videogame “Fortnite.”

This is for your own good

It wasn’t the violence or the amount of time she was worried about. It was the result. He wasn’t winning.

So she hired him a coach. For about $50, Ms. Hicks purchased four hours of online lessons from a player she found through a freelance labor website.

For many children, “Fortnite” has become a social proving ground. More than 125 million people play it world-wide, according to its maker, mostly in a free mode pitting 100 combatants against each other until one person or team is left standing.

Winning bestows the kind of bragging rights that used to be reserved for the local Little League baseball champ. Just like eager dugout dads opening their wallets for pitching lessons, videogame parents are more than willing to pay for their offspring to gain an edge.

Nick Mennen was happy to pay $20 an hour for his 12-year-old son, Noble, to take “Fortnite” lessons. The dad is already dreaming of a scholarship—or at least some tournament money. (“Fortnite” creator Epic Games Inc. recently pledged $100 million in tournament prizes. Some colleges court gamers with financial incentives to join their varsity teams.)

Noble used to win “Fortnite” infrequently before he began taking about six hours of lessons a month. “Now he’ll throw down 10 to 20 wins,” said Mr. Mennen, a software developer in Cedar Park, Texas.

The success has made Noble competitive with his dad. “I should be the one charging him,” Noble said. “He’s not as good as me.”

Coaches can be found on social media or through contracting sites such as Gamer Sensei and Bidvine, which said it has hired out more than 1,400 “Fortnite” coaches since early March. Some coaches can’t believe parents want to sign up their children for lessons.

“It’s really surreal to me,” said Logan Werner, an 18-year-old “Fortnite” coach in Roy, Utah, who plays the combat game on a professional team called Gankstars. “My dad would have never paid for me to take videogame lessons.”

Hiring a “Fortnite” coach for a child is no different than enlisting an expert to help a child excel at basketball or chess, parents say. Some sit in on lessons to make sure coaches are professional and that their children, well, level up.

“I want them to excel at what they enjoy,” Euan Robertson said of his sons Alexander, 10, and Andrew, 12. He hired them a “Fortnite” coach in June, who can stay as long as the children keep up their grades.

Here’s a video from Good Morning America about the phenomenon of hiring tutors to help kids improve at Fortnite. According to their story, tournament play has up to $100 million in prizes. 

In USA Today, “Fortnite tutors are a thing. And yes, parents are paying them,” written by Caroline Blackmon, writes that the craze over Fortnite is like Beatlemania. Really?

It’s turned kids into couch potatoes.

It’s caused professional athletes to crash and burn at their jobs.

It’s even infiltrated daily conversations with its own vocabulary.

Fortnite arrived on the scene last July as a free-to-play shooter by Epic Games. But it started off as less than a success when first released.

Then, in September 2017, Epic added a free-to-play “battle royale” mode, in which 100 players on a large island fight for survival.

That’s when things went crazy.

It captured the Minecraft generation with its free play, bright graphics and ridiculous costumes. It even overtook Minecraft in March as the most-watched video game in YouTube history.

“In terms of fervor, compulsive behavior and parental noncomprehension, the Fortnite craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis and the ingestion of Tide Pods,” according to the New Yorker.

Now instead of pushing back against the addictive nature of the game, some parents are doubling down on Fortnite by hiring tutors for their kids.

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I prefer this view to a video game.

What are your thoughts about hiring tutors for video games? Do you think it’s a reasonable thing for parents to do or not? Are parents going way over the top, or is it fine to give our kids all the reasonable advantages to help their self-esteem and perhaps earn a college scholarship?

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5 Tips for Parents to Reign In Smartphone Use

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Life before smartphones.

With all the evidence that more and more kids are suffering from anxiety and depression and with suicide rates skyrocketing, there is research that says smartphones may be making these trends worse. In a Time article by Markam Heid, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” he shares these horrifying figures:

“Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60%, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 survey of 17,000 kids found that about 13% of them had a major depressive episode, compared to 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010. Suicide deaths among people age 10 to 19 have also risen sharply, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women are suffering most; a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. All this followed a period during the late-1990s and early 2000s when rates of adolescent depression and suicide mostly held steady or declined.”

In another article, “Is Your Kid Hooked on Smartphones? 5 Tips for Parents” Heid gives some great advice for parents who are concerned with their kids’ smartphone use. Here’s the abbreviated version. You can read his article in its entirety here.

ONE
Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms. There is already strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks—particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communication and Media.

TWO
Set up online firewalls and data cutoffs.
Most devices and Internet providers offer parenting tools that restrict access to illicit content and curb data use, and there are apps that do so as well.

THREE
Create a device contract. “This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yalda Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table, or no more than an hour of social media use after school.

FOUR
Model healthy device behaviors. Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents. “We’re all, even adults, drawn to devices,” says UPenn’s Jensen. And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, she says.

FIVE
Consider old-school flip phones for your kids, or a smartphone without a data plan (and therefore no Internet access). This may seem like overkill for some parents—especially those of older teens. But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text with parents and friends, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen.

I think the best thing to do is put down firm guidelines and don’t give in. I was strict with my kids about when they got their first cell phones and I bought them at Target as pay-as you-go phones. It wasn’t until my son’s high school graduation that he got an iPhone. My daughter got one a little sooner because they were much more common, but not until age 16.

Today, I’m the one addicted to my phone. I’m always reading stories, looking at Twitter, checking out FB, etc. My daughter gets so mad at me when we’re together and asks me to put the phone down. “I”m here with you now!” she’ll remind me. I worry a lot about the kids who are in the iGen with peer pressure following them wherever they are. Getting the smartphones and computers out of their bedrooms at night is a smart idea. Making a weekend or week to unplug as a family is a plan, too. It’s such a different world, isn’t it, from when we grew up?

What rules do you have for your kid’s smartphone use?

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Me not on my iPhone–being in the moment with my daughter.

 

How Computers and Technology Changed My Life

Swim Practice

Swim Practice

It was my daughter’s 19th birthday this past week, and I texted her Happy Birthday, first thing in the morning. Yes, I talked to her later, but I knew she’d be at swim practice early and couldn’t talk to me right away. I wanted a nice message for her whenever she had a chance to glance at her phone.

photo (1)My birthday last year was filled with FB wishes. Twenty years ago, I’d get phone calls. It was a big deal, because I‘d hear from people that I’d lost touch with for years. Plus, people would call “long distance!” Sometimes they left messages on my answering machine, if I was busy at work.

Remember the answering machine?

Remember the answering machine?



I used to write my mom and my best friend letters. I had moved from Washington to Southern California, and we couldn’t afford to make that many long distance phone calls. I loved getting long letters back from those close to me. A lot of news and thought was put into writing letters. It wasn’t at all like the quick posts we do on FB or our tweets today.

On the positive side, I can stay in contact with a whole lot of people thanks to social media that I’d probably lose contact with otherwise.

In my working days before the computer, I’d write my stories on a typewriter. We’d use special purple mimeograph paper to type on and then I’d walk it over to the print shop to be printed. We’d mail the stories to the local papers, except when my boss would drive timely ones straight to the editor of The Desert Sun.

My favorite typewriter. The IBM Selectric II.

My favorite typewriter. The IBM Selectric II.

My newsletters were also typed on an IBM Selectric —what a luxury that was to type on compared to other typewriters — and I knew how to do the math to figure out how many words of copy would fill a column inch. I’d drive my copy to Indio to the typesetter and a few days later drive back to pick it up. Then I’d proofread, mark it up and drive it back. No, we didn’t have fax machines back then.

The machine I used to "send copy over the wire."

The machine to “send copy over the wire.”

The closest thing I’d used to a fax was “sending a story over the wire.” I took my sheet of paper with my copy on it, and rubber banded it to a round metal cylinder. I called the newspaper’s office and we started the wire. I took the phone receiver and placed it on a cushioned base and the cylinder spun around as the words were magically transmitted. If my wire didn’t go through, I’d read my words slowly to someone transcribing them at other end of the phone.

What a difference technology and computers have done to my world. Mostly, it speeded up the process and made everything so much easier.

What differences have technology made in your life?