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Pokémon Go: What Parents Need to Know

You may have been hearing a lot about a new game/app called Pokémon Go. Based on the popular trading card, video game, and television series, this app allows users to find, capture, train, and battle Pokémon around their very own neighborhoods!

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How does it work? It’s a free mobile app download for both Apple and Android devices. The game uses both your phone’s GPS and augmented reality (where images are superimposed onto your view of the real world, through your device) to allow users to “see” Pokémon around their real-world location. Here are some examples of what the game looks like.

Throughout the game, as users find and catch more Pokémon, they can visit real-world “PokéStops” and Gyms where you can find items for your Pokémon and train them for battle with other users. These locations could be parks, landmarks, libraries, or even street signs!

Even though the game has only been around for a few weeks, it’s already extremely popular with young adults and youth alike.

Should you be worried if your child is suddenly addicted to Pokémon Go? Here are some pros and cons to keep in mind:

PROS:

  • It gets kids up and moving. Because you have to physically walk around your real world to find, catch, and train Pokémon, kids are finding themselves getting more physical activity while still enjoying gameplay.
  • It can improve mental health. Some users have been reporting an increase in their mental health and wellness, because the game has encouraged them to leave the house, get fresh air, and take a walk.
  • It’s a relatively harmless, non-violent game. Kids are enjoying catching the cute Pokémon and teaming up with other users for both cooperative and competitive play.

CONS:

  • It has in-app purchases. Although it’s free to download and play, the app does contain in-app purchases, which can cause youth to spend more money than you’d like!
  • It can be tempting to play at all hours of the day (or night). Some Pokémon only come out at night, so users have been known to explore their neighborhoods at 3AM in order to find a new Pokémon for their collection.
  • Some Pokémon appear on private property. Because the game is location-based, Pokémon can randomly appear on private property, such as a neighbor’s backyard or fire station. It can be all too tempting for someone to invade this property just for a new Pokémon.
  • Users aren’t always looking where they are going – even though the app warns you to do so every time you open the game. People have reported walking into traffic by accident in search of a new Pokémon!
  • Because there are so many users, the game crashes often – which can frustrate young players.
  • The game quickly drains battery life – meaning your child could be out and about without a cell phone for them to reach you if needed.

Our biggest concern? Pokémon Go utilizes location services and encourages users to meet up at PokéStops and Gyms – which can lead to dangerous situations.

In order to train and battle your Pokémon, users have to meet up at specific locations in the real world (such as a park or city landmark). There have already been reports of dangerous activities taking place when users meet up in person. In one case, a group of armed robbers used an in-game item to lure players to a specific PokéStop location. We know that it generally isn’t safe for youth to meet up with strangers, but the game makes it seem safe and fun, especially when the PokéStop is a public place. However, this doesn’t make it any safer.

What are some things you should discuss with your child if he or she is interested in Pokémon Go?

  • Set limits on gameplay, as you would with any other app or device. Be firm and clear that they are NOT allowed to play after a certain time of night – no late-night hunting in the backyard!
  • Talk about when and where it is okay to hunt for Pokémon. Is it okay to enter a neighbor’s yard? What about a public building?
  • Discuss the potential dangers of meeting up at a PokéStop or Gym. Why might it be unsafe to visit a location that every other user has access to? What are the dangers of meeting online users in person? Could a parent join in the fun and visit PokéStops with you?
  • Encourage breaks from the game to give eyes, legs – and batteries! – a rest.
  • Decide whether or not in-app purchases are allowed, and consider setting a parental password for these purchases.
  • If your child shows great interest in the game, offer to play with them or create your own account. Being involved can help find a balance and keep them safe!

You can learn more about Pokémon Go at the game’s website here.