You’ve probably heard about Pokémon Go on the news or from your child. Mine has asked me 10 times today if he can go outside and catch some Pokémon. News reports of car crashes, muggings, stabbings, and even the accidental discovery of a dead body have parents rightly concerned about their child’s safety while playing this game. I will give you a brief overview of the game, how to follow up on what your child is doing on the app, some of the potential risks in playing the game, and tips for creating a fun and safe experience for your child.
Pokémon Go (+9 y/o or older) is free and available on the Apple App Store and Google Play store. The game does have in-app purchases however. Parents should turn off in-app purchases in your child’s device settings so they are unable to spend real money on additional Poké balls or upgrades to your gear (this is how Niantic is making mountains of cash off this game).
Pokémon Go is a location-based (GPS), augmented reality mobile game that requires you to venture out into the real world with a smartphone. As you walk around in the real world with the game open on your phone, you can discover characters in the game that can be captured and used in other parts of the game. The game rewards users for walking certain distances in different locations, so many players are going to want to play the game in a bunch of different places. This includes parks, near water, and in city centers where there's a lot of artwork or churches nearby. The more locations you encounter and interact with, the further your character advances in the game.
“This game is using my GPS signal. Are they [Google or the app developer] tracking me or my child?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, your location has to be turned on to play, because you have to know where to catch the stupid little things. That means Google has full access to a user’s account and data since the user logs in using a Google account. There is a fix for this now, but it’s still smart to be aware and check out your Google accounts to see what information has been given up to the app if you’ve already downloaded and used it. According to Market Watch, Adam Reeve, the principal architect for the security company RedOwl wrote:
“Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”
“Can my child talk to strangers on this game?”
No. Pokémon Go doesn't have a chat system in it at all. There's no way for users to communicate with each other through the app, communication has to happen either in person or through a separate chat service. NOTE: I would keep on the lookout for this feature to be added in a future upgrade (there are no stated plans for this). Most games eventually evolve into a social media platform.
“Can my child be lured to a location by another player?”
Yes. Players can purchase a Lure Module for a $1 as an in-app purchase in the game’s “store.” A “lure” is something other users can see on the app alerting them to come to that location to catch more Pokémon.
A group of armed robbers lured eight players to a location in Missouri using a “Pokestop.” The O’Fallon, MO police issue a warning after that incident saying, “Many of you have heard of Pokémon Go, but for those who have not, it is a type of Geo Caching game where you find and capture Pokémon characters at various locations. If you use this app (or other similar apps) or have children that do we ask you to please use caution when alerting strangers of your future location.”
Obviously, anyone can purchase a lure. It could be a kid in your neighborhood, or an adult. Either way, your child might be interacting in-person with a stranger.
“Will this game suck all my data?”
Yes, big time. According to Vox, Pokémon Go “requires your phone to be constantly checking and transmitting your location via GPS, which is a data-heavy endeavor. And the very nature of the game — namely, the impetus to get outdoors and keep moving — means that more often than not, you’ll be using a cellular connection rather than a wifi connection.”
Be aware of how much data your plan allows and monitor your child carefully if they aren’t connected to wifi while playing. Most plans allow you to sign up for data alerts that send a text to your phone when your account is approaching its limit. Otherwise, you could have a very expensive surprise when your bill comes.
Tips to help you and your child be safe
You can see where they have been playing by:
- Tap on the menu ball on the bottom of the main game screen
- Tap Pokémon
- Tap on any creature in the list
- Swipe down to the map
The map you see at the bottom of this screen is the general area your child was playing the game, with the date just above the map for some added context. This doesn't give you a specific location, but the circle on the map gives you the general idea.
Pokémon Go keeps an internal log of everything that happens in the game, so you can go back and confirm what items you've collected or what creatures you've transferred. It also adds a timestamp down to the minute the action took place, which means parents have a complete log of when children have been playing the game. Here's where you look:
- Tap the head in the bottom left corner of the main game screen.
- Tap Journal.
- Scroll to see timestamps.
This Journal is everything that happened to this character in the game, and can't be deleted or edited by the user. It's set in stone, making it a reliable way of confirming when your kids have been playing the game.
Other safety tips
- Use something other than your first and last name as a username in the game.
- Don't stare at your phone while crossing a street. Use Battery Saver and hold your phone at your side when walking somewhere dangerous.
- Establish geographical boundaries for play.
- Have your child play with a buddy or go with them
- Avoid going out after dark by yourself, and travel in groups of three or more at night.
- Make sure someone knows the general area you are going to play.
- Take breaks.
The Bottom Line
Pokémon Go is not inherently dangerous. Use the same rules or caution that you use when you child ventures out into your neighborhood. It maybe a good idea to review some of the safety rules that you have taken for granted. When a child gets an electronic device in their hands, sometimes the common sense portion of their brains shuts down. Clearly define their geographical boundaries of where they can and cannot go. Heck, throw on your walking shoes and go out with them, and perhaps you can squeeze in a good conversation along the way.