Has your 13 year old suddenly been begging to go on a long bike ride? Is your 9 year old anxious to go to the park with friends – or your 7 year old asking to go on a nighttime walk around the block?
If the change happened within the last week, there’s a good chance your kids are spending their time outside playing Pokémon Go. The game-based app has become an instant phenomenon, attracting kids – and adults – to play.
Heather Trnka, the injury prevention coordinator for Akron Children’s Hospital, noticed her own 2 teens became fast fans.
“It can be like pulling teeth to drag my 14 year old away from video games to go outside,” Heather said. “But now he can’t wait to go.”
The app is built around the 1990s Nintendo Game Boy game of the same title that spurred TV shows, multiple movies and trade cards. Now reimagined to interact with your smartphone, the game follows your movements, using its GPS to alert you to nearby Pokémon that you “catch” using Poké balls.
It taps into your smartphone’s camera so that it really looks like the characters are in front of you – or on the sidewalk, in the lake, on the car dashboard, or just about anywhere else your phone is pointing.
“It can be a great way to motivate previously unmotivated kids to get exercise – and with their friends, too,” said Heather, whose other teen, 17-year-old Emily, has been out regularly hunting down Pokémon with friends (she’s currently a level 9 for those playing along).
While the game has plenty of benefits, including getting kids to exercise and socialize, parents should caution young players to be careful.
Heather encourages parents to review these 10 do’s and don’ts with kids to help them catch every Jolteon and Pidgey in the Pokémon world while still staying safe in the real world.
Go in groups. Kids are safer if they’re out in groups, versus playing the game alone.
Make it a family affair. Especially for younger children, it’s best to go as a family. This not only ensures your kids stay alert and out of harm’s way, but it’s also a great way to get exercise together.
Set boundaries. Talk to your kids about where they are and aren’t allowed to play. For example, you might explain that they can play in your neighborhood but not beyond. Even if you’re going out together, make sure your kids know they need to stay within a certain distance from you – often they can get so excited about catching a new Pokémon they can stray easily.
Keep it to daylight hours. Yes, there are nocturnal Pokémon, but let your kids, especially preteens and tweens, know that they can only go during the day. If they want to go at night, consider travelling with them, or have another trusted adult tag along.
Watch your cell phone usage. So this isn’t strictly about your child’s safety, but it’s worth noting that the game uses both Google Maps and the in-phone camera – both drain data plans quickly. If your child is playing consistently, you might want to check your data plan daily and restrict their playing time to stay within your phone plan’s limits.
Let your phone battery get below 20%. Pokémon Go drains the phone’s battery right along with eating into the data. It’s important that your child’s phone battery doesn’t run out while playing or else she may not be able to reach you if she gets lost or needs help.
Go on private property. The game interface doesn’t identify public and private property. In other words, your kids could wander right into someone’s yard trying to nab a Caterpie.
Cross streets while playing. Kids need to stay alert while crossing streets – even within your own neighborhood. Let your kids know they need to get off their phones to cross the street.
Play and drive. As with texting and driving, playing Pokémon Go while at the wheel poses a serious risk to teens’ safety. Let your teen know that Pokémon Go is strictly off limits in the car – unless he’s in the passenger seat.
Visit unfamiliar areas. It’s easy to get distracted – and even lost – while in pursuit of an elusive Eevee, Pikachu or other character. Even for teens, encourage them to stay in places they know versus venturing off into unfamiliar territory, even if they’re with a group. Heather points out players should avoid wandering into water, too. Even what appears to be shallow water can have a sharp, unexpected drop-off.