You may have recently noticed groups of young people walking around your city glued to their phones. But why has this familiar scene suddenly captured the attention of millions? It is all about a new interactive phone app called Pokémon Go. Within the first week of launching, the app had 7.2 million downloads, which is more than any other app previously released by Apple. The average time spent on the app is 33 minutes per day, according to app tracking firm Sensor Tower. With 21 million active daily users, it boasts more active users than Twitter, according to Fortune, as well as more active users than social media giant Facebook.
Pokémon Go is an exciting interactive app that has moved tweens and teens from the sofa to the park; however, the Pokémon hunt could potentially lead to a few unsafe situations. Thus, keeping kids safe while they play Pokémon Go is becoming a top priority for parents.
Well into the teen years, young people are developing their ability to assess risks and tend to find themselves in precarious situations, regardless of app or activity. Listed below are 5 ways in which you can easily harness the energy of the Pokémon Go movement to touch on broader safety lessons with your teen.
1. Make Pokémon Go a Fun Family Affair: Making Pokémon Go a family affair will let you connect with your kids in a more meaningful way. You can take to the great outdoors and search for Pokémon characters together. If you and your teen are playing independently, then send screenshots of the various monsters you capture. Who knows what other conversations will pop up during your Pokémon family adventure?
2. Build a Real Life Pokémon Go Map to Help Your Child Play in Familiar Locations: There have been reports about Pokémon Go users getting lost or letting their smartphones die while playing. This could prove to be an unsafe situation for young people playing the game. Employing Pokémon boundaries for your kids to adhere to is an excellent way to keep them safe while enjoying the rarity of being off the sofa. To set these boundaries talk about physical locations – “only in the park” or “no further than your school.” Or enhance the learning experience by having your child design a “Google map” that shows you their proposed boundaries. You can negotiate revisions to the boundary map with them, building communication skills. Then you can reinforce these boundaries while playing the game with them, ensuring there is no confusion during solo play.
3. Place Importance on Not So Hidden Dangers: The virtual app play combined with reality has caused some real life safety issues for Pokémon Go users. There have been instances of users walking into traffic and inanimate objects while eyes are glued to smartphones.
- Staying aware of one’s surroundings. Whether your children are Pokémon Go fans or not, this safety lesson is useful to any tween or teen with a smartphone permanently attached to them. Turning the sound down or using only one earphone bud so your child always has at least one ear to their surroundings is a good rule of thumb.
- Do not enter unfamiliar neighborhoods, streets, buildings or areas.
- Attend to bike and car safety when using vehicles to reach Pokémon destinations.
- Follow curfew limitations and alert parents when making a significant change in destination.
4. Recognize the Risks and Benefits of Independence: While it can be fun to meet other game enthusiasts while searching for Pokémon, or share gaming techniques with others, it is important for children and teens to understand there are always boundaries to playing games safely. Talking to your child about who they plan to play the game with, and what they would do if a stranger approached them while playing is important.
Talking with your kids about strangers, even if it’s the second time around is never a bad plan. In an interview with Good Morning America, Callahan Walsh from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said this app is a perfect way to reopen this conversation. Clueing your children on what they should and should not be doing when it comes to strangers is essential to their safety and their search for independence. Kids can get so wrapped up on their Pokémon hunt that they may find themselves in unfamiliar neighborhoods or secluded places. The National Crime Prevention Council recommends pointing out safe areas to play and teaching assertiveness.
5. Be Respectful of Others: Not everyone is as excited about Pokémon Go as your teen is and, even if they are, they deserve the consideration of not having their person or property invaded or damaged as a result of someone else’s game. Teens who are focused on a game, particularly in the company of peers, can be oblivious to the impact of their behavior.
- Don’t enter someone’s yard or property without permission.
- Don’t make a great deal of noise in places where people have an expectation of reasonable quiet, such as their neighborhoods, within a place of worship, or inside a public building.
- Don’t disrupt other’s activities.
- Leave every place you visit as nice or nicer than when you entered it. Avoid trampling plants, dropping litter or tracking in mud.
One of the most effective ways to keep your tween or teen safe while playing Pokémon Go is to simply keep an open line of communication. Showing interest in what they are engaged with may help you navigate some of those barriers tweens and teens often put up. Staying on top of what’s new and discussing daily happenings with your child is a great place to start.
About the Author
Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. She believes that, in our digital age, it’s time for parents and educators to make sure parents and students alike are educated about technology and social media use, hoping to inform others through her writing. She is the mother of two teenaged boys.