If your kids are obsessed with Pokemon Go, or begging to play, here is what you need to know as a parent.
Are they paying attention to where they’re going?
First, this smartphone game uses augmented reality in real locations, and your kids will need to go to these places to capture Pokemon. (That, by the way, is short for ‘pocket monster.’)
Players collect virtual items and participate in “Pokemon battles.” Yes, it’s screen time, but it is also great motivation for kids to get off the couch and outside again. And with all of this walking, be ready for complaints about sore legs!
However there are a few concerns with location-based games such as this one. There is the challenge of walking while staring at a phone screen, which happens with Pokemon Go.
The risk goes beyond a few bumps and bruises when players find themselves near roads, rivers and high places. There have already been accidents, some serious, involving players too caught up in pursuit of capturing the adorable monsters.
Where are they going?
The most desirable Pokemon destinations players are called Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms, and they are often found in public or community places such as parks and churches. Because of their popularity, this is where your child will most likely encounter other players, both children and adults.
And when you talk to your children about being aware of their surroundings, don’t forget to discuss private property. Police are reminding the public not to trespass, as some Pokemon Go players are wandering off paths and over fences. There is also the consideration of where it might be inappropriate to play Pokemon Go. Locations such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and Arlington National Cemetery are appealing to players to not hunt Pokemon on their sites.
You should also know that strangers with their own agendas can influence where your child goes to find Pokemon. Shopkeepers can attract customers by activating “lure modules.” These in-game items cause more Pokemon creatures to virtually appear in a specific area, and thus “lure” players hunting them to their real-life stores.
This technique could also be used for nefarious reasons. Missouri police have reported that armed robbers used Pokemon Go to draw potential victims to secluded locations.
Who will they meet?
Pokemon Go is a social game and interaction with other players can be great fun. Fellow gamers might spot the recognizable Pokemon zombie walk or finger flick Pokeball shot — telltale signs that someone is playing Pokemon Go. Friendly conversations will likely involve which team they are on, which Pokemon they are trying to catch, and what battle strategy works best.
But also keep in mind that your child might fight a stranger’s Pokemon pet in a battle or take over a Pokemon Gym location from another player that is there. Friendly competition can get emotional. Consider discussing “stranger danger” tips and your own family’s rules on interacting with people they do not know. It could help, too, to play the game in pairs or groups to ensure safety.
How private is the information players share?
If your child has already downloaded and installed Pokemon Go, the initial release might have received access to your child’s Google account. Pokemon Go has pushed a fix for this, which requires you to install the latest update, sign out and then sign back into the app. Even with this fix, there is still a lot of information that is collected by the Pokemon Go app, including your child’s age, email address, locations they have visited, websites they have been to, and more.
Be aware that there are third-party apps related to Pokemon Go, and many of these also collect a lot of your information. These supplementary apps include chat communication add-ons and knock-off versions. Users should be especially careful with these unofficial apps, as some of them contain malicious trojans, adware and malware.
How much will this cost?
Pokemon Go is a free app, but there are in-game items that are very tempting to buy. Many of them, like the Pokeballs that players throw at Pokemon, can be collected for free every few minutes at PokeStop locations.
You will also get some of these virtual supplies each time your character goes up a level, but you will likely run out of that supply before leveling again (especially if you are bad at throwing those Pokeballs.) Collecting these resources can become a tiresome chore, which makes the appeal of buying them all the more tempting. Why walk a few blocks to a PokeStop to collect three Pokeballs, when you can instantly purchase 20 Pokeballs for 99 cents?
To play Pokemon, your child will need a smartphone that has a gyroscope. Look for an iPhone 5 or greater, or an Android with an operating system of 4.4 or higher. Ideally players also need an LTE or a 4G data connection. A Wi-Fi only device will also work, but it may lead to frustration since there will be tempting Pokemon and PokeStops just outside of available hotspots.
The good news is that the game is not eating up data plans. Players only use on average between 2MB to 8MB of data per hour playing Pokemon Go, and there are plenty of tips to help players use even less data. T-Mobile has also recently announced that it is offering unlimited data for Pokemon Go for a year.
Pokemon Go does quickly drain smartphone batteries, though, especially when players use the camera view. An additional phone charger or battery pack could help extend trips to the park to hunt Pokemon. But then again, having to charge your child’s phone more often, and using that to limit screen time, could be one of the best fringe benefits of Pokemon Go.