The ever changing world of the internet has thrown its latest hurdle to parents of cell-phone wielding children and teens: Pokemon Go. Coverage on Pokemon Go has been excessive, and unless you have been hiding like Pikachu, chances are you have heard of it (but just in case you haven’t click here). Like every other app this game comes with pluses and minuses, and as our Executive Director Adam Rosenberg says “I am not saying no, but I am not ready to say yes.” So here are some things to think about before you or your kids go out and play.
What’s great about Pokemon Go is that the game encourages children to get outdoors and move around – not just sit on the couch. It encourages “IRL” (in real life) meet ups and interaction with other players. However, there have already been reports of the game being used to commit crimes and causing accidents: one player sexually assaulted at a game stop; a “PokeStop” in California located at a facility housing sex offenders; armed robbers “lure” victims; and police patrol car sideswiped by a driver playing the game. These stories illustrate the more concerning safety issues at play – not just with Pokemon Go, but with social media and technology in general.
When playing Pokemon Go, children unintentionally give real life location information which allows the game and other users to identify where they are while playing. Just like on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, Pokemon Go relies on geo-tagging data to be able to place players in the game. Geo-tagging draws a virtual map of your life. It allows others to see your child’s daily habits and routines, and gives them potentially dangerous knowledge of you and your child’s coming and goings. The game also utilizes your phone’s camera to superimpose the image of Pokemon characters onto the real world. Previous incidents with camera hacking, have allowed access to computer cameras and video which recorded people unbeknownst to them and without permission.
Additionally, players can set a “Lure” to draw more Pokemon and ultimately players to a single location. As if the name wasn’t creepy enough, this function can easily be used to attract potential victims to a single space. Equally troubling is that “PokeStops” can sometimes be in unsafe or risky locations. In BCAC’s neighborhood, there is a “PokeStop” and a “Training Gym” next door to a substance abuse treatment center and another in a vacant office.
So what can you do to keep your kids safe? BCAC recommends that parents check out the Social Preference Caps (the settings which can allow parents to set limits on both the chat and trade functions). Make sure that the location services are turned off when the game is not being used, and consider turning off location services for other apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Most importantly, BCAC recommends parents:
- Take Charge: set ground rules with your kids and understand the Privacy Policies
- Monitor: look at what your kids are doing, what sites are they going to, who are they talking to
- Communicate: talk to your kids about the very real risk games and social media can pose
Don’t want your home or business to be a PokeStop? BCAC felt that as a space which helps heal traumatized children, it was not appropriate for our center to be one. Therefore, we submitted a request to be removed from the game. You can submit a request to be removed as a stop by clicking here.
So should you “catch them all?” Before we shut the door on Pokemon Go, consider using it as an opportunity to get out there and play as a family. Do not let your kid stumble over sidewalks and walk into standing objects alone while looking for Vaperon or Mewtwo. Explore the game with them, and don’t be afraid to set ground rules on when and where they can play. Or if Pokemon Go or online gaming isn’t for you, grab a ball and a mitt and have an old-fashioned catch, or go for a walk in your local park IRL with your kid, not looking at a phone.
Drew Fidler, LCSW-C is the Policy and Program Development Manager and a Forensic Interviewer at BCAC. Drew interviews child victims of crime and works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting children, conducts trainings, and writes policy on keeping the kids in their care safe. In her spare time, Drew prefers to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends.