Is Pokémon Go safe for kids? That’s the question on the minds of numerous parents and ministry leaders. To be honest, there are multiple factors involved here on both sides of the argument.
First, if you don’t completely understand the concept of the game, take a look at the article What is Pokémon Go? Also, I won’t be addressing whether or not Pokémon is inherently good or bad, as you can probably do a quick internet search and find articles on the topic. I just want to address this most recent phenomenon and its effect on our kids.
Ready? Let’s take a look at both the positive and negative elements of the game:
- Exercise. People everywhere are walking significantly more than usual while playing this game. I just spoke with someone today who walked nearly 5 miles in the last week while playing the game (the game keeps track of your distance for you, in kilometers). For any video game, that’s an enormous achievement. I’m not sure that any video game has accomplished anything even close to that.
- Exploration. When playing the game, people travel (in the real world) to different destinations, in order to gain more items and fight other Pokémon players in the game. Many people are going to places that they have never gone before. For example, many of the destinations are churches. Some of my ministry friends are reporting that people are just randomly showing up at their church to play the game. Is this potential for more ministry? Quite possibly. In addition to churches, people are visiting local businesses and various destinations around town, getting out and exploring much more than they normally would.
- Real World Interaction. Most video games involve little to no interaction with real people in the real world. Pokémon Go has a unique way of connecting people, because it encourages players to visit the same locations together. People are playing this game with friends, meeting their neighbors, and interacting more with other people through this game. Some might call it a “social activity” of sorts.
- Stranger Danger. You knew this was coming. Anytime you play a game like this, you can have people interacting with complete strangers, often running into them in-person at a “real world” location while playing the game. Like any other game, this can be very dangerous for kids. You will also see questionable characters (some with bad motives) visiting different locations that have children there already, because they are trying to play the game or meet other people. For example, some robbers have targeted players at Pokéstops. Churches are one of the most popular destinations for the game, which is both good and bad. While there may be potential for more ministry and outreach to these newcomers, it might also become dangerous, as people with bad motives could be visiting churches. Another thought: think about a local church having a funeral, and a small group of people show up outside to play their Pokémon game. Yeah, it might happen.
- Distracted Walking. If you are on your phone playing a game and don’t watch where you are walking, you could injure yourself or others. I know, I know… some of you already have that problem.
- Privacy Problems. If a location on the Pokémon map is not completely up-to-date, then sometimes people will be venturing to a non-existent location or a place that has undergone change since the map was last updated. For example, this guy lives in an old church, but the Pokémon map keeps accidentally sending people there, thinking that the church still exists as an older church. That would get old really fast. People are even entering police stations too.
Is Pokémon Go safe for your kids? Parents, it is ultimately your call. However, whenever there are negative elements present in a game, caution must always be taken, whether that means not playing the game or putting tight restrictions in place for the purpose of safety. If you let your kids play this game, then please exercise caution and supervise them as often as needed. I see the “Stranger Danger” element being the most threatening factor in play here.
My goal with this article is to equip you as parents and ministry leaders, so that you can make informed decisions about this game. I’d also recommend taking a moment to download the game on iOS or Android to see it for yourself, which is always a good action to take when debating whether or not to let your kids play a specific game.
There are probably more elements that I missed, both positive and negative. What are they? Share your thoughts in the comment section.