What parents need to know about Fortnite and setting limits

What parents should know about Fortnite

Millions of people have played the wildly popular online game Fortnite since its debut a year and a half ago. Players battle with guns and other weapons on a fantasy island or work together in "creative mode."

According to a 2018 survey from Common Sense Media, 61 percent of U.S. teens have played the game, while 24 percent of parents worry about the amount of time their kids spend on it.

Dr. Sue Varma, a board certified psychiatrist and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center told "CBS This Morning" playing games like Fortnite gives kids a hit of the hormone dopamine.

"We're finding that just anticipation alone of the video games can increase your dopamine by 70 percent in the brain, which is the pleasure and reward system. But the problem is that these young kids, their developing brain, has the foot on the gas but it doesn't have a foot on the brake so they don't have the same control and regulation. The kids don't know when to stop," Varma said.

She said players can develop a "craving" for games and when they're interrupted, can get extremely irritable. She said there have even been cases of violence, where kids break into their parents' car to get their devices or even steal credit cards in order to play.

"Most kids are able to regulate their playing. But we are finding that kids that are more vulnerable, who might be prone to depression or anxiety or have difficulty making friends, might be using this as a form of coping or avoidance," she said.

Parents worried about play time should set boundaries. That may involve setting a timer that stops the game after a predetermined time limit. It could be giving kids a choice to either play the game, or choose another activity, like playing a sport outside or participating in another game with family.

Even with rules to limit video games, Varma said parents need to look out for warning signs, such as:

  • A lack of self-care
  • A child stops eating
  • A child withdraws from friends
  • Talking about death or suicide

"So many parents are afraid to ask the difficult questions because they think that they're going to plant seeds into the minds of their children," Varma said. "Let me tell you, those thoughts, if they exist, have been there for years. So know the warning signs."