By: Elizabeth Murray, DO, MBA, FAAP
The Pokémon GO craze is attracting attention from all ages, and some parents are asking their pediatrician whether or not is OK to let their children play the game.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not have official guidelines on the game itself, the same rules your family would use for other digital activities still apply.
What's Active Screen Time?
Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game—part of the experience is virtual, part is reality. I like to call a game like this an augmented activity—sure it's screen time, but it can also be active screen time. You can't just play this game from your living room. You have to walk around, usually in a public space.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation for physical activity for children 6 years and older is at least 60 minutes per day. If Pokémon GO is a painless way to get your family on the move for an hour, then that's great!
For all ages:
Never cross a street or ride a bicycle, scooter, or other wheeled vehicle while looking at a phone. Players should stay alert to their surroundings and follow the rules of safe walking, biking, and rolling (including wearing a helmet and other protective gear when appropriate) at all times.
Decide what locations near you are appropriate for playing this game and have a discussion with your children about respect for others' property and public spaces such as war memorials or cemeteries.
Remind your children to have good manners, including looking up from the game while walking, biking, and when someone (or you) is talking to them.
Children under age 10:
Most children under age 10 do not own their own smartphone, and therefore they need a parent's help to have access to this type of game—that's a good thing! Here's why:
When using a shared device, parents maintain the control of where and when the game can be played. Ideally, a shared device will also mean a shared activity. Co-playing with your child is a great way to spend quality time together and make sure he or she is behaving in a way that you feel is safe and appropriate.
This is a great way for younger children to learn about digital citizenship. Young children need to learn that once they enter the digital world, they are a part of it and leave their footprint wherever they go.
If you were not part of the original Pokémon generation, you probably have a bunch of questions about what exactly is a "Jigglypuff" or a "Pokéball?" Ask your children about the game and show an interest. In addition, some aspects of the game may go above young heads. You can give your kids a bit more detail about what certain words mean or stand for. For example, choosing a "Team" prompted a really interesting conversation with my 7-year-old. She realized that her choice of "Team" was a statement about how she is representing herself to other players (i.e. valor, instinct, etc.).
Pokémon GO is currently a free app to download with opportunities for in-game purchases. To help with monitoring, protect all purchases with a parent-only password. You hold the power!
Help your kids understand the value of a dollar. Suggest that they put a portion of their allowance into an account for Pokémon GO purchases (with you doing the purchasing). Virtual spending, like online gambling, can too easily be separated from reality and the concept that your children are spending actual dollars can be lost.
Many parents have also incurred overage fees for data usage. So, it is important to keep an eye on how much your family has left before going over.
The rule for teens is simple: no Pokémon GO while driving a car. The Pokémon GO safety features, such as a warning at the start of the game to watch where you are walking and loss of game function if traveling certain speeds, are there for a reason. Note that the loss of game function can be overridden by clicking "I'm a passenger," so the game still requires self-control on the part of the player.
If your teen driver fears missing a Pokéstop while driving, he or she can pass the phone to a friend to play while he or she concentrates on the road.
This type of game also encourages large groups of people to meet up in public areas. On one hand, great, public areas are better than private areas, but again, it's still a large group of people with many unknowns.
Under no circumstance should your child ever go to a second location with someone they met while playing Pokémon GO. It may seem obvious to us as the adults, but remember, it can be very easy for your child to feel comfortable with a new "friend," because he or she is a fellow gamer. Without some vetting, there is no promise that this person is who he or she says.
A Final Note to Parents
It's up to you to weigh the risks and benefits of playing Pokémon GO and to decide what's right for your children. This type of technology won't go away. We can't let our own discomfort with something we don't fully understand lend a blind eye to what our children are doing or participating in. Be sure to take the risks seriously so that the game stays fun for everyone!
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:
About Dr. Murray:
Elizabeth Murray, DO, MBA, FAAP, is board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. She is an Assistant Professor in both the Departments of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the University of Rochester. Prior to entering medical school, Dr. Murray completed an MBA at the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business Administration. She was named an official spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 and can be seen regularly on Good Day Rochester, ABC Affiliate Rochester, NY.