What You Need to Know about Pokémon GO

If you’re not a Bulbasaur living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Pokémon GO. It’s the throwback to the early ’90s sensation that’s sweeping the mobile world, causing people to crash cars, find dead bodies (no joke!), and other crazy things. However, if you’re like 99% of the Mom World, you probably haven’t really figured out what this game is all about (unless you work in IT, where your employees talk about it on the daily… Oh, maybe that’s just me?).

So, here are four things you need to know about Pokémon GO:

1. You can stop working out. Seriously, you have the chance to build a completely smokin’ hot avatar/Poke-trainer with no body issues and really excellent hair.

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2. It might actually make you work out. Or at least walk. I’ve heard from a few parents who have taken the baby stroller out, ostensibly to enjoy the weather and get quality outdoor time with kids, only to actually be stealthily stalking the neighborhood Zubats and Rattatas. Whatever floats your boat and FitBit, I guess, peeps.

3. It is really, really popular. Pokémon GO has been downloaded more times in a week than Tinder has been downloaded in a year. I’m not sure what kind of commentary that provides on our society, but it’s also worth noting that people are spending more minutes on average playing Pokémon GO daily than they are on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (per USA Today). For those of you who can’t seem to pry your teenagers away from Snapchat to have a normal conversation, this may fill you with a combination of hope (that you can actually stop them from spending hours and hours swapping faces and making themselves look like toast) and despair (that one more piece of app-based technology has wormed its way into your life).

4. Pokémon is short for “pocket monsters.” I just felt compelled to let you know that, because there are definitely plenty of scandalous jokes in the making with a name like that.

OK, so maybe those aren’t the serious things you need to know about Pokémon GO. I jest. But, here are some things that you probably would like to know/hear so you can decide whether the game is a good fit for your family:

What is it? Pokémon GO is an augmented reality smartphone game that builds on the nostalgia of the old video game from our childhood. Remember Pikachu—little yellow squishy guy with naturally rosy cheeks? He’s back.

How do you play it? Your goal in Pokémon GO is to, simply, catch as many Pokémon as possible. The game has geolocating capabilities, so you can walk around, drive around, etc., and find Pokémon in your area, establish gyms and teams with other players, and train your Pokémon to battle one another.

Is it safe for my kids? There’s nothing inherently unsafe or scary about the game. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward program. The bigger safety concerns stem from:

  • People playing the game are absorbed in their devices rather than paying attention to the world around them. That disconnection could lead to anything from car accidents caused by people trying to catch that elusive Pokémon while driving to walking out into a dangerous street because you’re focused on your phone screen.
  • Stories have also been published online regarding the dangers of Pokémon “luring” and how it could bring kids (or adults, for that matter) into contact with dangerous characters planning to rob or take advantage of them. That’s a definite possibility, especially as the game encourages interaction with other players, regardless of whether you have a personal connection to them. You may want to consider making Pokémon GO a family activity, so you can keep tabs on where your children are, spend some quality time, and work on your overall family wellness. Turn Pokémon GO hunting into family walks—even with a smartphone in hand, it’s an opportunity for bonding with your kids and allowing them to integrate you into their activities and interests.

Is it safe for my family? I do think this is a different question than whether it’s safe for kids. Why? You probably want to evaluate a couple of potential concerns before turning your kids or family loose on the game. First, the game allows in-app purchases, which could easily rack up and become costly ($99.99 for 14,500 Pokecoins—are you kidding me?!). There are no spending controls built in to the game, so parents would have to establish those themselves through their device’s settings. Data charges could also apply for the use of GPS and app play. More important than monetary concern, though, is the potential for access to your personal data. According to Buzzfeed, if you accessed the game through your Google account, you’re giving the developer the opportunity to access all your Google information, including Gmail, Google Docs, and more. While a patch has been introduced to resolve this issue, you’ll need to sign in and select additional privacy settings.

Any additional advice? This craze will pass, just like every other game, app, or toy—from Tickle Me Elmo to Tamagotchis to Candy Crush. (OK, maybe not Candy Crush… Somehow I’m still getting requests to play from my cousins. Thanks for that, by the way.) Just use it as an opportunity to have dialogue with your kids about safety, privacy, and awareness of surroundings. And, hey, maybe if you feel up to it, you’ll catch a few Pigeotto yourself. Good luck!

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