Is Pokémon Go safe for kids?

It's the game that's taking the world by storm, but is Pokémon Go really OK for kids to play? Here's what you need to know.

Photo: Nintendo
Photo: Nintendo

If your kids are fans of Pokémon, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Gotta catch ’em all.” Well, that mantra has never been truer with the release of a new mobile game app that’s taking the world by storm: Pokémon Go.

It’s been all over the news, but in case you haven’t heard, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game based on the franchise’s show, video games and card games. The object of the game is to head outside, search for Pokémon (“pocket monsters”) and catch as many as possible (there are more than 150). The app uses GPS tracking, so you’re able to go to real-life locations, such as parks, schools and malls, to catch Pokémon. Because the GPS simulates real-world locations in real-time, the app shows you icons on a map indicating where the Pokémon are, or where you can gather resources or visit “training” gyms. The more ground you cover, the more “energy” you will have and the bigger your collection will grow. Players can also see where other players are on the map, and once they reach a high enough level, they can join teams and battle other trainers (players).

It sounds fun, right? That’s because it is! Users are loving it and it’s getting great reviews. But it deals with augmented reality and real-time play—which should be red flags for parents—and that’s why Common Sense Media, the world’s largest collection of ratings and reviews for media content aimed at kids, recently released its review of the game.

The review brings up key points such as game play, safety and the benefits of the game. Here’s what you need to know.

Photo: Common Sense Media
Photos: Common Sense Media

Is there anything to worry about?
The main safety concern is that a player’s location can be tracked, stored and revealed to nearby players—both children and adults alike. According to Common Sense Media, Pokémon Go users who log in to the game via their Google account risk compromising their information. Other potential dangers include physical injury due to distraction (like walking through an intersection because you’re staring at your phone), being directed to an unsafe location or private property, and becoming a target for assault or robbery. Unfortunately, there have already been reports of incidents like this. The game also drains a device’s battery pretty quickly, which can be concerning if it’s the primary means of getting a hold of your kid when they’re out of the house.

Photos: Common Sense Media
Photos: Common Sense Media

How can I ensure my kid plays safely?
“If your kid is going to play Pokémon Go, it’s important to have a conversation to highlight safety precautions,” says Common Sense Media app editor Christine Elgersma. For example, talk to him about the dangers of using his device while distracted, she says. “Make sure your kids are aware of their location and their surroundings.”

Consider playing as a family. This could mean that your kid is using your phone while you walk around together hunting Pokémon, or that you’re each on your own devices but playing together. Playing on separate devices creates some friendly competition, as only one person can catch the Pokémon when a group of people encounter one.

But what if your big kid doesn’t want to play Pokémon with mom? Elgersma recommends setting specific boundaries in your neighbourhood outlining where your kid is allowed to play. She also recommends that your kid go out with a group of trusted friends.  Talk to them about safety before they head out and call to check in.

Because of the nature of the game, your kid might end up running into other players. “Because it’s such a social game, it’s important to talk to your kid about public interactions with strangers,” says Elgersma. “If something happens that makes them uncomfortable, they should leave the area. They should also be aware that people of all ages are playing.”

Finally, have a chat about private property versus public property, as the game might take your kid to the former. This would be an instance where that, “Gotta catch ’em all” slogan may not apply.

Elgersma offers a few more technical tips to keep in mind:
1. Keep the app consistently updated. Privacy issues, like the one affecting Google account holders, are currently being resolved.
2. Turn location tracking off when not playing the game.
3. Create a family email account for the sole purpose of gaming. You can use your real name when signing up (preferably yours, not your kid’s), but make sure the screen name for the game doesn’t give away any personal information.

What are the benefits of the game?
The app encourages players to get outside and be active. Yes, your kid will still technically be on her device, but she’ll be using it in the great outdoors as opposed to being slumped on the couch. Kids get to explore new parks and do a lot of walking. And just because it’s a video game doesn’t mean there’s no social interaction—it can actually be a fun way for your kid to make new friends his age, or spend quality time with his parents.

Read more:
Pokémon 101
Trading toys: 4 tips to help your kid
6 simple ways to get a handle on your kids’ screen time

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