Important Safety Tips for Parents of Kids Playing Pokemon GO

Family playing Pokemon GO
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As with Rainbow Loom and Instagram and Snapchat, parents never saw Pokemon GO coming. The latest craze among kids launched in 2016 in the U.S. and within days, just about every school-age child with a cell phone or tablet (not to mention plenty of young adults and grownups) was hunting for Bulbasaur, Pidgey, Jigglypuff, or any of the hundred-plus Pokemon characters that can be captured with this insanely-popular augmented reality (AR) game.

It's hard to say how long the Pokemon GO frenzy will last, but it's clear that the app poses some clear hazards parents must be aware of to keep kids safe. There have been reports of alarming incidents and close calls, including people being injured while being distracted by the game and even robberies that were committed by teens who set up a "beacon," an alert to the presence of a Pokemon. Stories of people going to inappropriate places such as Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum to hunt for Pokemon have also made headlines. In an emailed statement to Reuters, Nintendo said, "We encourage all people playing Pokemon GO to be aware of their surroundings and to play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places."

Here are some important safety tips as well as a list of pros and cons of the Pokemon GO fad that you, as a parent, will want to know.

Pokemon GO Pros

It gets kids outside and makes them want to walk. The reality is that even the most active kids will gladly plant themselves in front of a video game or TV for hours on end, and the growing use of smartphones and tablets only add to the amount of screen time among children. Pokemon GO is a legit outdoor game for kids, and will actually get kids outside and have them walking, perhaps even for hours. (The game requires the player to actually move and tracks speed and distance.) Kids won't even realize how much exercise they're getting, and will get fresh air and sunshine to boot. Come bedtime, parents everywhere will sing the praises of these cuddly Pokemon critters as their children fall fast asleep in blissful exhaustion.

You have fun and spend time together with your kids. There's a reason why Pokemon GO has become such a phenomenon so quickly: It's fun! Collecting all those cute Pokemon characters, finding Pokemon Gyms and PokeStops—it's practically designed to be irresistible for kids, not to mention grownups. Spending time with your kids doing everyday activities like simply having dinner or just laughing and goofing around together has shown to be important for their health and development. Bottom line: It's a fun game that can bring you closer together while you walk around outdoors is a good thing.

Pokemon GO Cons

Distracted walking is a clear and present danger. The dangers of walking or driving while texting or looking at the screen are well-documented. In an October 2014 survey of 1,040 kids ages 13 to 18, Safe Kids Worldwide found that 40 percent reported being hit or nearly hit by a car, bicycle, or motorcycle while walking. And according to the National Safety Council, more than 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011 were linked to distracted walking involving cell phones.

Anyone can set up a beacon. "Beacons," or spots where other players report that a Pokemon might be nearby, can be easily used by predators or criminals to lure unsuspecting players.

Data usage soars. Before you know it, playing Pokemon GO for hours can deplete your data usage. The app uses geolocating, like a navigation app would, so unless you're using wi-fi—which you likely aren't if you are walking around outside—your data limit can easily be eaten up by the game.

Battery drain is also a problem. Similarly, Pokemon GO can drain your battery—another big problem if you're on the move and unable to charge your phone easily.

You're still looking at a screen. While Pokemon GO does encourage exercise and gets kids out into the real world, the fact is that it still involves looking at a screen.

Some places are inappropriate. Aside from places like Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum, some other decidedly not-safe-for-kids locations, like strip clubs, have been reported as being identified as a PokeStop by the app. Oops.

It's still buggy. Players have reported having to restart the game constantly. Crashes, being unable to log back in, and progress that suddenly reverts to a previous level are just some of the glitches that have been reported. The fact that the game is as popular as it is despite these problems says a lot about its potential.

Important Safety Tips for Using Pokemon GO

If you have a child who's playing Pokemon GO with you or with his friends, consider these important safety tips and ideas for how to use the app in a way that's best for your child:

  • Stick to safe places like the park. Kids should not use this app—or look at their cell phone at all—when in the street.
  • Play with your child. Make sure your child only plays with you or with his friends when another trusted parent or caregiver is supervising closely.
  • Bring a soccer ball or other toy to get kids active. Use the game to get kids outside. Then, after you've collected some Pokemon, put away the phone and break out a soccer ball, a Frisbee, or play an active game that is completely screen-free.
  • Bring snacks and water. All that walking and searching is bound to get kids hungry and thirsty. Make sure you bring some snacks and water to nourish the Pokemon hunters.
  • Be sure you know exactly where you're going, and make sure it's appropriate and safe.
  • Never, ever, use the app while driving. Some users have resorted to driving around a neighborhood at a slow speed to catch Pokemon, which is neither safe nor setting a good example for a child.
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