Kids are obsessed with 'Fortnite.' Is it bad for them?

You can almost hear a collective sigh rising from America's parents: How do we get our kids back from the black hole that is "Fortnite?"

The "Hunger Games"-style, multi-player online gaming phenomenon produced by Epic Games has captured the minds and hearts of the nation's tweens and teens — almost literally. The game, which is free to play, has 3.4 million players and earns an estimated $318 million a month , largely off of micro-transactions within the game in which players can buy "skins" for their characters or new dance moves.

In fact, the game even inspired a dance craze among its young fans recognizable to any weary parent: "flossing."

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Video game experts explain what makes Fortnite so popular -- and profitable

"I hate it. It consumes his brain," said Indianapolis, Indiana, mom Sumer Ramsey, whose 14-year-old son spent the summer playing the game. "He talks about his character like it’s real. He spends his real money on packs of virtual crap. He gets livid when he dies, and I do a happy dance." Ramsey said she heard her son's alarm go off at 5:30 one morning, and she knew it was so he could start playing "Fortnite."

Tracey Albert of Houlton, Maine, said her 7-year-old son is mad she won't let him play "Fortnite" 24 hours a day. Albert said he has pretended to go to sleep and then sneaked out of bed and stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. secretly playing. "Some of his friends play too, so I know I’m not alone," she said. "One of his friend’s moms is a teacher. It makes me feel a little better."

"What’s a good investment? Go home from work early and spend the afternoon throwing a ball around with your son." - Ben Stein on CNN

The only people tired of "Fortnite," it seems, are parents. But is "Fortnite" bad for kids? Does anything good come from the hours our kids are spending glued to their screens in an effort to score the coveted Victory Royale?

"'Fortnite is what your child makes it," parenting and child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents. "There are amazing opportunities for collaboration, communication, problem-solving, perseverance, and other skills that make our kids into the humans we hope they can be."

But that doesn't mean the game doesn't offer many opportunities to promote bad behavior, Gilboa warned — everything from foul language to "befriending" imposters on the internet. "Supervise your kids, especially kids under 14, while they play this game," she advised. "This is a great chance to model moderation and caution while playing something that builds important skills and is a ton of fun.”

Parents admit "Fortnite" isn't all bad. Julie Miner told TODAY Parents her son and daughter bonded while playing "Fortnite" together, "A nice change from arguing non-stop," she noted.

Miner said her 13-year-old son also talked about how the game "encourages paying attention to your environment, to many different moving pieces, and making split second decisions that you need to take responsibility for.

"He was saying, 'You make these decisions on the fly, and you deal with the consequences of them,'" said Miner, an adjunct professor of public health at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Ask your children three "you" questions every day. The art of conversation is an important social skill, but parents often neglect to teach it. Get a kid going with questions like, "Did you have fun at school?"; "What did you do at the party you went to?"; or "Where do you want to go tomorrow afternoon?"

Mandy Brasher of Stansbury Park, Utah, said that "Fortnite" actually helped her 12-year-old son stay social over the summer. "He doesn't have a phone to contact friends, so he uses the game to make plans," she told TODAY Parents. "He will play for a bit, then meet that friend at the pool. I think he is more social this summer because his friends are on it and he can talk to them and see them more often."

The overwhelmingly popular online game "Fortnite" has 3.4 millions players – and all of them have parents rolling their eyes over how much time they spend playing it.

Epic Games

Even teachers see benefits to the game. Lily Read, a 10th grade teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that she has seen "Fortnite" act as an "equalizer" among her students.

"Some of my students who are not very social or outgoing have engaged in conversation with the more 'popular' students about the game," Read said. "And if you're good at 'Fortnite,' there is a respect given that supercedes social positioning in a way I have found very intriguing."

Don’t be too critical towards your child’s exploration of the Internet. Children may come across adult material by accident on the web. Also, a child may intentionally search for such websites; remember that it is natural for children to be curious about off-limits material. Try to use this as an opening to discuss the content with them, and perhaps make rules for this kind of activity. Be realistic in your assessment of how your child uses the internet.

Knowing that "Fortnite" might be transcending the social hierarchies of high school might take the sting out of the next time you find a charge on your credit card statement and realize that you spent real money buying a virtual character a new dance move.

But probably not.

Editor's note: This story was first published on Aug. 20, 2018, and has been updated.