A new world is upon us — the world of Pokémon GO. Many parents have already seen their kids transform into top-notch trainers of these virtual creatures (pocket monsters, or Pokémon for short) who search the neighborhood, leaving no stone unturned, in their quest to “catch ‘em all.” This new game has swept the nation and is credited for putting kids on their feet, out the door … and into harm’s way?
In addition to taking over screens, it has taken over conversation as well. Pokémon GO has received mixed reviews. Some parents rave about the benefits, while others voice concern about safety. If you’re not sure what to think, check out the pros and cons below to help you decide if this game is right for your family.
Pokémon GO is a game played on smart phones. The game uses the phone’s GPS to show the player’s surroundings as a virtual, Pokémon world. Based on the TV show Pokémon, the game allows its players to become Pokémon trainers.
Walking, biking, or driving around is the way to find cool areas, called Pokéstops, where you can collect Pokéballs and other game items. Pokéballs are the red balls that trainers use to catch Pokémon, which are also found by traveling around the neighborhood or other areas.
If a trainer really wants to catch them all, using incense or dropping a lure can help attract Pokémon to a spot of the trainer’s choosing. After catching Pokémon and reaching a certain level within the game, trainers can go to a gym and battle other trainers.
The 4 Pros of Playing Pokémon GO
1. Encouraging physical activity.
If there is one thing this game does, it gets kids moving. To achieve the goals of the game and move forward, it’s necessary to travel around in search of Pokémon, eggs, and Pokéstops. Furthermore, the only way to hatch your Pokémon eggs is by walking. In fact, your first eggs will require walking between 2 km and 5 km to hatch. If your kids usually prefer to play inside or watch TV, this may be the motivation they need to get moving.
2. Experiencing the outdoors.
Pokémon GO certainly knows how to get kids out and about. Desire to catch more Pokémon, or to hang out at a gym battling other Pokémon trainers encourages many kids to be out in the sunshine.
3. Exploring new areas.
Kids are seeing sights they’ve never seen before as they wander from location to location hoping to catch one of the rarer Pokémon. While on the hunt for a cute critter, they could end up visiting a historical landmark or other cool site they’ve never been before. In fact, many Pokéstops are located on landmarks and historical spots. Your kids could be playing, exploring — and maybe even learning — all at once!
4. Meeting new people.
The game may take place within a phone, but the battles certainly don’t. Many players have found themselves connecting with the new people they meet at gyms for a battle. The interactions are real-life social exchanges that allow people to connect with others who share a similar interest.
There have also been reports about kids and teens with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, autism, etc., benefiting from the game. The game provides an incentive for them to be outdoors and walking around. They also have a way to connect and something to talk about with new people they may meet while playing.
For kids and teens with depression, one of the best treatments is called behavioral activation, which is largely just physical activity.
The 6 Cons of Playing Pokémon GO
1. Increasing chances of injury due to immersion in the game.
With all that activity comes some risk for injury. The main cause of injury when playing the game is distraction. The game sucks in its players, who then don’t pay close enough attention to their surroundings. Consequently, many players have reported spraining ankles, tripping, or running into walls, street signs and other surfaces. Some players get so absorbed in the game they’ve walked into busy streets by accident. Others have been in accidents while playing the game on a bike or skateboard, or while driving a car.
2. Increasing screen time.
Despite being a largely outdoor game, Pokémon GO is additional screen time for your kids. And like a lot of videogames, it can be addicting. If kids are focused on the virtual Pokémon world, they could be missing out on the real one.
With so many Pokéstops located at landmarks and historical sites, there is a lot of value kids can get from putting down their phones and exploring their surroundings while playing the game. However, kids may be so absorbed in the game that they miss out on the wonders that history, culture and the great outdoors could offer them.
3. Trespassing and loitering.
Some players have found themselves in a little bit of trouble when they’ve wandered or loitered in places they’re not allowed to be. The nature of the game encourages wandering around and pursuing Pokémon, wherever they may be. The trouble with this is that some Pokémon will appear on private property. Players have been found trespassing while trying to catch a Pokémon. Others have found themselves in trouble for loitering in the locations of a Pokéstop or gym.
4. Dropping lures and the potential for crime.
Although infrequent, serious concerns about safety have arisen with Pokémon GO and crime. All players in an area have the same access to the locations of Pokémon, Pokéstops and gyms. Because of this shared knowledge, criminals can wait in those locations for players to show up.
Things get more dangerous when factoring in lures. Lures can only be used at Pokéstops. After a trainer drops one, Pokémon will be attracted to that spot for the next 30 minutes. All trainers can see that a lure has been dropped in that location and will be more likely to head in that direction, hoping to catch more Pokémon.
Potential criminals, like predators or robbers, can use lures so that players come looking for Pokémon. Players may miss signs that they are in danger because they are absorbed in the game and not focusing on their surroundings. Due to the newness of the game, there isn’t any statistical analysis on the frequency of crimes related to Pokémon Go, but isolated instances of crime have been reported.
5. Spending money.
Don’t be fooled by the easy, charge-free downloading process when you get the app. The game may be free, but some of the features aren’t.
Pokéballs, for example, are priced starting at a dollar for 100 balls. Starting the game, you’ll have a certain number of Pokéballs for free. But later on, if you haven’t collected enough from Pokéstops, it’ll be time to break out the wallet and buy more.
Other features you may find yourself paying for (if you have a little Pokémon Master) are egg incubators, incenses, lures, storage upgrade and more.
6. Sharing account information.
Google users beware — if you or your child signed up for the game using your Google account on an iOS phone, the system granted Niantic Labs, the creators of Pokémon GO, total access permission to your account. Niantic Labs has stated that this was a mistake that they are working to fix, but the only information they access is the basic profile information like user ID and email address.
A good number of concerns arise with Pokémon GO. Teach your kids some quick tips to help keep them safe while playing.
- Always go with an adult or let an adult know where you’re going.
- Play with friends or bring a buddy.
- Avoid playing at night.
- Don’t explore or wander onto unfamiliar or private property.
- Don’t play while in the car.
- Avoid playing near the road.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Avoid situations or people that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
- Tell a trusted adult if something happens.
- Remember to limit screen time and hold firm to limits.
Now that you know the potential benefits and risks associated with playing Pokémon GO, you can decide if it’s the right game for your family.
Kids and Exercise (Nemours’ KidsHealth.org)
How Can I Teach My Kids to Be Smart About Strangers? (Nemours’ KidsHealth.org)
Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet (Nemours’ KidsHealth.org)