If you have any contact with a kid over age 8, I’m sure you have heard of Fortnite. If not, simply say that word around a kid and you will get a reaction. Especially boys. It is the latest and greatest in the App Store, Xbox, Switch, gaming craze. How do I know this? Well, I live with two boys and we have had our own personal Fortnite adventure over the past several months.
Last winter, my boys asked to get Fortnite on the Xbox because you know, “All my friends have it.” After working to earn the money for the game, I allowed them to download it. To say they liked it is an understatement. It seemed harmless enough. And hey, at least they were interacting with other people, right. A few times, they would earn a little extra money and ask if they could buy a “skin”. They’d give me the money, I’d load the amount on the Xbox and the gaming would continue. This went on for a few months. And, like every gaming fad, I was sure this one was almost over.
In April, I was sure my bank account had been hacked. But, as I talked to the lady at the bank she did not start in with her typical speech that was supposed to go something like this: “You’ve obviously been hacked. We will take care of it.” Instead she asked if I had a Microsoft account. I’m not going to lie that once I finally connected all the dots after finally tracking down all the charges, I was extremely grateful that my children were at school. I was so irate that it was best that they were far, far away from me. I finally sat down and really prayed. I asked God to give me wisdom to know what to do in order to punish them appropriately.
When the boys came home from the bus, I asked them calmly if I could talk them upstairs. (My kids tell me that calm mom is way more frightening that angry mom). I sat them down and explained that I was trying to pay our bills but I was so sad to find that I could not pay them because someone had stolen over $500 from my bank account. They look so surprised and genuinely upset and protective of their mom. I mean who would do this to us? Then, I continued, “Imagine my surprise when I found out it was my two boys who stole from me.” I recapped the story of my day tracking down the charges and no one said a word. One of them broke down in sobs and the other had quiet tears running down his face. (I’m not going to lie, there was a little relief in at least seeing the remorse.)
The boys tried to tell me they thought they’d found a hack. They’d purchased a few V-bucks (aka Fortnite dollars) at first, and it looked like it “wasn’t even really costing” anything. After a day of the little things, they started in with the bigger purchases. I mean, if they’d found a hack, why not “hack” the big bucks. Right? I don’t know if that is really what they believed or if they convinced themselves that was what was happening. But, the punishment was going to remain no matter what.
After our little talk, I calmly explained that the Xbox was gone for 6 months. In that time, they would have to do any and every job that anyone offered to earn money to pay back every penny they stole from me. In addition, when they finished paying the money back, they could start saving up to purchase the Xbox from me. It would cost them $350, because that is what it costs in the stores.
For the next 4 months they worked for me, for my mom, for my dad, for my neighbor, for our church. They did any job they could find. They did finally pay back what they owed, plus earned enough to buy the Xbox back. But, it was hard work.
What I Learned From the Saga:
1. Parents, be aware of what your kids are doing online.
I have every software check, balance, safety system in place . . . and yet this happened. I didn’t realize my debit card info had been stored in the system after one of my small, approved purchases. That was the open door to mindless charging. (Needless to say, my boys now have to earn money, buy an Xbox gift card and that is the only way they can purchase anything.)
2. Your kids are going to mess up.
I believe with all my heart they need to have appropriate consequences that are hard and fast, with a huge dose of love and grace. My kids needed to understand how serious this was. Not only did we talk about stealing things in cyber space (that sounds so futuristic) but, we also talked about the consequences of credit cards. They hated working for 6 months to pay for something that was long gone. I explained that is exactly how credit cards work. In our house, we have to live on what we have. Life is just simpler that way.
3. Parenting is hard.
Parenting is hard. It is so hard. We need each other. We need to share our stories and show our scars. I had to share this story with my friends and family so that they could help me and possibly learn from my mistakes. I was embarrassed that I’d let this happen. But, I’m so glad I told them. My friends and family jumped in to give the boys work when they needed it to pay off their debts and speak truth and love to them to make this a teachable moment.
Our counselor and friend, David Thomas, wrote a great article on Fortine that helped me. I hope it helps you too.
What I didn’t tell my boys . . . and I am saving this for their graduation or wedding rehearsal dinner . . . is that Microsoft refunded the money. (Shhhhhh!)