I have two children: a girl in middle school and a boy in high school. They have become obsessed with the PokémonGo app. It has been all over the news about thieves using it to lure kids to areas and robbing them. I feel that I should make them delete the app. What should I do?
A very timely question! For those that aren’t aware, Pokémon is a video game created by Nintendo for their handheld device, the Gameboy. It was first released in 1996 in Japan and has become a worldwide phenomenon spawning multiple movies, TV shows, trading cards, etc. There have been various editions of the game over the last 20 years. Many of our kids have grown up with the figures as a part of their pop culture.
In a nutshell, the game involves the player traveling around trying to capture Pokémon (pocket monsters) that run wild in the world using a special device called a Poké ball. There are hundreds of different breeds of Pokémon with varying levels of power. For more info about the game, click here.
Until now, the game has been played on Nintendo platforms with some sharing via Wi-Fi between players. For the first time, the game can be played on your cell phone with a free app called PokémonGo. It is a “live” version of the platform game, only the world isn’t imaginary anymore. The app uses GPS to pinpoint exact locations of your child/teen and generates content for them to interact with. The game was designed to get kids out and walking in the fresh air. Features of the game include “eggs” that hatch after walking so many kilometers, accessories/upgrades you can find and notifications for wild Pokémon in your area. In order to catch the wild Pokémon, players need to track and sometimes even run to get it. Quite ingenious!
One tool that can be purchased or earned is called “lure.” This allows a player to attract Pokémon to a particular location. This is helpful if you are trying to capture a rare breed or several Pokémon in a small area. A side effect is that it also attracts other players to you. This is what is getting the publicity as, yes, those with negative purposes could use this feature to lure unsuspecting kids (and adults) to locations that are not well lit, vacant or off the beaten path. Note: At this time, the GPS feature only shows you where items or Pokémon in the game are. It does not show you the location of other players.
So back to your question….should you make them delete the app? Ultimately, that is your decision as a parent, but this is the approach I would take (and did!).
First, learn a little about the game. It’s actually a lot of fun…sort of a combination of a treasure hunt and geocaching. It’s a great way to get a child or teenager (or adult!) out of the house and exploring their Community. I spent this weekend taking my child to a few local sites that were considered “hot spots,” meaning there were many Pokémon or accessories in the area. We were at a local university, a cemetery (lots of cemeteries are on the map), a local park and a church. All were good locations for kids to go out and walk. One friend actually downloaded the app along with her child and they are playing together while exploring their city.
That being said, it is also an excellent opportunity to talk with your child about the location feature on their device. Do they know what a GPS is? Do they know how to change the location and privacy settings? Do they know their Community and what areas may be unsafe? Do they go with a group and have a plan in case they encounter a stranger? Are certain locations off limits depending on the time of day?
This is also a good opportunity to have follow-up discussions about what they are posting on social media sites and review those privacy settings, especially regarding their location. Here is a great article about Pokémon and concerns over data collection and privacy. These concerns hold true for a lot of other apps on the market as well, so you really have to make sure your settings are at a level you feel comfortable with.
Speaking of social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Tumblr all have big followings based on this new game. Fun fact: In the five days it’s been on the market, PokémonGo has been downloaded more that the social media app, Tinder and is set to overtake Twitter as well. Click here to read more.
If you are concerned, then it’s time to make a different decision and/or seek out help. As with all social media, we want our kids to use the technology in a safe manner. So talk and connect….it is all about the open conversation.
Amanda Cooper, LCSW