I'll confess that I've spent some serious money rather stupidly when it comes to my daughters. (A top-notch jogging stroller that spent most of the time in the garage, a $100 Barbie dream house that was played with less than 5 times, and a piano keyboard that still sits here gathering dust, just to name a few.) But those pale in comparison to the latest spendy trend—Fortnite coaching. (Yep, it's apparently a thing.)
Places like Gamer Sensei let you hire gamers who've racked up hundreds or thousands of wins on the Fortnite battlefront to analyze your game, point out your weak spots, and give you the strategies you need to come out a winner—all for anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour. (It doesn't say how many hours of coaching the average Fortnite fan will need to win a coveted champion parachute or parasol, but everyone interviewed in The Wall Street Journal appears to have splurged on several lessons.)
The Wall Street Journal interviewed one mom, Ally Hicks, who spent $50 so far for coaching to help her son improve his schoolyard cred. "There's pressure not to just play it but to be really good at it. You can imagine what that was like for him at school." Other parents are hoping to get their kids on pro teams or score them college scholarships—and they point critics toward the beaucoup bucks other parents are paying for private sports coaching for their budding athletes with the exact same goals. (And as a mom who racks up obscene bills toward helping her 14-year-old pursue her dream of a professional dance career, I can't exactly cast a stone on that front.)
But to me, this is just one more sign of an overarching problem. There's a not-so-level playing field pretty much everywhere you look when it comes to parenting. When I was a kid, sports participation required a pair of sneakers and a time commitment. Now you're expected to cover private coaches, travel teams, and nutritional counseling just to make the team. Private SAT coaching and professional college essay assistance help the teens who can afford it get a leg up over their just-as-talented but not-so-well-funded friends. And without pricey summer intensives, hours of dance class every week and nearly a grand annually in pointe shoes alone, you can kiss your daughter's dream of becoming the next Misty Copeland goodbye.
A cartoony battle royale computer game feels like it should be the one place where all you need is a console and a lot of free time to succeed, where you shouldn't have to spend another small fortune to keep your kids competitive. The game itself is free to play, and the "upgrade" skins and extras that some players spend on to customize their characters don't give them an upper hand. But these coaches—they definitely do.