FROM A PSYCHOLOGY PROFESSOR AND MOM
Pokemon Go, the new location-based reality game from the originators of the Pokemon franchise that began in the late 90’s with trading cards, may be the start of a new trend involving and physical activity.
That’s the belief of Dr. Loretta Brady, a psychology professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. Dr. Brady, co-director of the Media Engagement and Developmental Impact Lab at Saint Anselm, is a licensed clinical psychologist and parent who says there are a number of potential good consequences to this new fad for kids and communities.
“Young people are actually out and about, sharing and interacting in the real world, not a non-virtual one,” said Dr. Brady. “There have been stories shared of those with anxiety, autism and general distaste for being outdoors all finding themselves enjoying being out and being social.”
The game allows players to capture, battle and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices. The game is free-to-play, although it supports in-app purchases of additional gameplay items.
“In addition to the physical benefits, I’ve heard about neighborhoods, housing projects and apartments complexes with increased numbers of people interacting with each other. This means the potential for a sharp boost to social capital, even in settings with perceived crime or safety concerns,” said Dr. Brady.
While Dr. Brady acknowledges that parents should still be cautious when their children play Pokemon Go – they should make sure they’re careful when crossing streets and wander around – she believes the game may be the start of a shift toward children returning to the outdoors.
Here are some of Dr. Brady’s tips for the parents of young children playing Pokemon Go. They combine media literacy, health and safety, and behavioral change best practices:
Tips for the parents of young children playing Pokemon Go
Consider the values important to your family. Do you want your children to know the value of history, the opportunities for connecting with others and the benefits of nature? Take the walks and adventures with your child as an opportunity to actively engage these themes in conversation. As you and your child hunt, share stories about the first time you went to this location, or add things for them to hunt for. (“Let’s see what this plaque says about this monument.” Or, “Let’s say hi to the neighbor we spotted.”) These conversations not only bring you closer together, but a model for your child that what’s important isn’t necessarily winning or collecting, but being part of something bigger than themselves.
Demonstrate safety. “When my children go out, we create an opportunity for us to be outside together, with me acting as their eyes and ears. As we come to a street, I verbalize what we are doing. (‘Let’s put the phone down. Check both ways – is anything coming? Okay, which direction do you want to take now?’) If we’re in a park and I see them heading toward pavement without looking to see what might be coming, I say their name, ask them to stop, and ask them to notice where they are.” In general, teach children that a game that absorbs so much attention requires real effort in terms of safety. Requiring someone to be a spotter (who isn’t looking at their phone) and letting one child be in control of the Pokemon Go game, helps prepare them to be safe.
Set healthy limits, both to protect your data charges and to help kids understand that while the game is fun and engaging, there are other things to do with leisure time that might also be worthwhile. Since taking walks with the phone turned on can help you earn points, you might want to plan regularly scheduled walks without actively playing the game.
Mind your Manners
Use the game as an example of how to use manners. “When a signal came up suggesting a character was about to appear on our neighbor’s lawn, we stopped and considered where we were, whether we could get permission to be there, and what we would do if this wasn’t a house we knew well.” Actively narrating the decision as you wrestle with it, helps children problem-solve similar dilemmas when they are hunting on their own.
If you have more than one child, try to rotate who gets to hunt, so no one child becomes “expert” to the exclusion of others. This helps them rely on each other and see themselves as part of a team, helping to reduce rivalry.
Learning about the game and technology will help as questions and challenges arise. Engage your child with the questions you want them to be asking themselves whenever they use new technology. (“I went through a list of questions when my son wanted to evolve a character I had captured – does it cost anything, can it be undone, what happens next, who sees this activity? Some questions we couldn’t answer ourselves, so we used the opportunity to do some research together online and found answers that made our decisions easier.”)
Dr. Brady believes the real opportunity with this phenomenon is the chance to explore the world together, to learn from one another, and to engage in our broader community in ways that may not have been as comfortable before. Note that children’s capacity to learn and remember arcane rules is probably better than yours, so seeking their advice while confirming for yourself will be helpful.
According to Dr. Brady, children 5th grade and up probably have the capacity to explore familiar areas on their own, although the idea of a two-person team, one acting as a safety spotter, is a good idea. Teaching the value of teamwork and taking turns has many benefits even beyond Pokemon Go. Children younger than 5th grade can be part of a parent team.
Finally, Dr. Brady says if you want the benefits of this game without the technology, there are always the good old-fashioned scavenger hunts and geocaching games that have been fun and popular for many years.
Dr. Brady is a licensed clinical psychologist with additional certifications in leadership coaching, addiction treatment, infant mental health, and conflict mediation. Her clinical efforts have served returning veteran’s, chronically ill patients, professional teams, families in crisis, and patients with trauma and addiction.