Note from Wendy: When the augmented reality game Pokémon Go was released this summer, my 14-year-old, Charlie, was (like a gazillion other kids) instantly enthralled. I let him play the game during our travels—in small doses only, and in safe areas. As he used his smartphone to hunt and catch digital creatures in real-life locations everywhere from California’s Hearst Castle to England’s Stonehenge, I saw first-hand how Pokémon Go can be a double-edged sword for traveling families: On the one hand, it leads kids to explore places and discover sights that otherwise might not interest them. On the other hand, your kid could stumble into a dicey neighborhood, wander into traffic, or walk off a cliff in pursuit of a Pokémonster. So I asked Charlie if he would share a few suggestions, from a teen’s perspective, for how to achieve that balancing act of giving your kids the freedom to play the game while minimizing its drawbacks and keeping them safe. Here’s his advice:
Hi. I’m Charlie and I’m 14 years old. You might trust your kids to play Pokémon Go in the town you live in, but playing in an unfamiliar place could put them at risk. The app contains warnings not to trespass or enter dangerous areas, the loading screen warns players to be alert at all times and stay aware of their surroundings, and there is even an alert when you go too fast, noting that the game should not be played while driving (though it is easily bypassed by pressing the “I’m a passenger” button). Unsurprisingly, these have done little to make the game safer. People have fallen off cliffs while playing, have wandered too close to military bases, and have even been stabbed. Some kids have ended up in places where they shouldn’t be, and some have been lured into being robbed. And with the recent release of the game in South America, there are now even more foreign countries where your kids could be at risk.
So how can you keep your kids safe while they try to catch that elusive Pikachu at the Eiffel Tower? Here are my three tips.
1. Play it with them.
Obviously this is a lot to ask, but it’s your best bet for keeping your kid safe.
You can’t have your head in your phone, though, since you need to watch your child. What you can do is put your phone in battery saver mode. That turns the app into a black screen when it is held top down, and it rumbles when you find a Pokémon. Let your kid be the one to track down the Pokémon; then, when he finds one, catch it with him. This will make your kid want to wait up for you, so you can catch them together. If you need a break, you can pretend to take a long time to catch one, so you don’t tire out too quickly.
2. Set a curfew.
The later at night it gets, the more dangerous a place can be, especially in an unfamiliar country. Nighttime is a more likely time for drunk drivers and illegal activity. So giving your kid a time to be in by is a surefire way to be safer. A good curfew might be about 9 or 9:30 pm, but it will depend on how old your child is and what country you’re in.
3. Limit how far they can go.
To make sure that kids don’t get lost or take too long to get back, set boundaries on how far they can travel. This could be a hard rule for your kids to follow. If you tell them not to go past 7th Street but the Pokémon that they’re after is on 8th street, they’re without a doubt going to stretch the boundaries. The best way to enforce this, if you have an iOS device, is to make sure that the “Find my iPhone” app is on your child’s phone. That way you can enter your child’s iCloud information on your device and track their location. Another great way to limit their range of play is to let them play in a park that they’re not allowed to leave. Parks have little to no cars and are often great places to play, boasting frequent sightings of rare Pokémon.