A Parent’s Guide to Using Pokémon GO! for Good, Not Evil

Venusaur, Charizard and Pikachu: Do these names sound like they’re from another planet? Well they are! These critters (or pests, depending on how you look at it) are from the Pokémon world…maybe you’ve heard their names at least a couple times this summer (or a couple times too many). But what is the Pokémon craze, and how can it be used to help your kids? Is this new app just increasing your kid’s screen time? Here’s a Poké-mom’s guide for parenting Pokémon GO – you might even find yourself trying to “catch ‘em all” too!

Catching, Hatching and Evolving

This game geniusly provides incentive for kids to move more. Catching these elusive Pokémon motivates people to walk around, so they exercise without even thinking about it. They’ve “gamified” exercise – kids like earning points, stocking up on Poké Balls, and catching rare Pokémon. On a recent family outing, I saw with my own eyes how great it is for exercise. I took my daughter and niece out (my little Pokémon trainers) to find some Pokémon and watched as they scoured the park for their next catch. As they would say, the two kids circled around “forever” trying to gain Poké Balls and potions. The pitfall was when they found one spot and became obsessed with catching and stood in that one place waiting to re-spin.

Remind kids they can come back to that spot, and they’ll find more if they keep moving! Try using an activity tracker or pedometer app to have kids track total steps – set a goal to walk at least 1,000 steps before turning the game on. Alternatively, set an overall step goal – whatever motivates them to keep moving.

Bonus: If you’re always looking for a walking companion at the beach, with Pokémon GO, your kids will join you so that they can catch the Pokémon water types. Even better, why not discuss biomes with your child in the context of Pokémon! Maybe your kids aren’t usually into taking a local hike, but they’ll be more willing to go if they can catch a bug or flying Pokémon (a little bribe never hurt anybody). Just make sure to bring a portable charger! This game can drain some smartphones fast.

No Cliff Diving!

For all busy moms on the go, it’s only natural that our kids would follow suit and be on-the-GO chasing Pokémon. Kids like activities. Just make sure they play safely! Yes, even a gaming app can be played with mindfulness. Just like we model “no texting while driving, biking or walking,” we need to model “no playing while driving, biking or walking.” But since this game requires you to check on the screen while walking, teach them to pause when looking down at the screen. Someone has actually walked off a cliff playing this game. There have also been reports of thieves waiting at PokéStops to rob people! This is a good opportunity to discuss being aware of your surroundings while having fun. My friend even stepping in doggie doo while glued to Pokémon GO! Being locked to the screen can clearly cause some unpleasantries.

New Places, New Faces!

As your kids get more exercise on the hunt to catch Pokémon, the game can also increase community engagement. Of course, you don’t want them approaching strangers alone, but while you’re with them, you can meet other Poké-crazed kids and adults, and build camaraderie with them. Pokémon can create a sense of community between neighbors and new people. If your child is shy, it could be a way for them to learn to ask questions and make conversation without feeling anxious.

The game can also help your child discover and explore new places. Have your child research PokéStops you discover. These include museums, historical markers and monuments. Make a pact: after kids discover a PokéStop, they need to find a few interesting facts about the place and communicate their thoughts on the location and favorite aspects. I’ve seen families playing at the California Science Center, at Monuments in Philadelphia and at historical Colonial Williamsburg. Our family sets a rule for places like this. We’ll have kids wait to play until towards the end of the day when they’re tired from walking and listening. It perks them up and cuts out complaining (finally, right?).

Must Catch Pokémon NOW!

Despite its upsides, the game can end up being a time suck, another distracting smartphone app. The other night, while I was sitting relaxing with my daughter, she said “who knows maybe there’s a Pokémon right here in the house, let me check on your phone!” I responded by saying, “no way is there a Pokémon in our living room!” Why interrupt a good moment?

Don’t let your kids get too obsessed, it will suck them in! Just like other types of screen time, set rules and boundaries so kids are clear on what’s acceptable. And watch out – you can get addicted too! On a dream vacation to Iceland, my friend found herself getting lured to “play” at the Pokémon “gym” at the pool and café.

Not that you shouldn’t play. This can be an opportunity for kids to learn how to share better. Ask for a turn, and see how quickly they give or “snatch” back the phone. So next time you decide to chill in front of the TV on a weekend, get up and join your kids on a Pokémon mission and have a new activity that you can enjoy together. And if this game is really grinding your gears, don’t worry. Like all fads, kids will lose interest before you know it!

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