If your family plans to play Pokémon GO, Kidpower recommends that you take these simple steps to be safe and have more fun:
- Recognize the possible safety problems
- Practice skills, make decisions, and set boundaries that can prevent or avoid problems
- Make Safety Plans that include skills, boundaries, and agreements
- Stay in communication and have fun!
To help out, we’ve added a bit more detail about each of these steps in the four sections below, but remember: while there is always more to learn, you do NOT need to be an expert in order to give your kids confident guidance that can help them be safer while they play right away!
Recognize the Possible Safety Problems
- Tripping, Falling, Being Hit: Pokémon GO players are enthusiastically going out to play, but as they get distracted looking at their phones, they’re crashing into objects, tripping over obstacles, toppling over edges, and moving in front of traffic.
- Crossing Personal Boundaries: Walking into a tree might hurt, but walking in front of a cyclist might hurt someone else, too! Bumping into others, stepping on their things, or walking through their yards can spark conflict.
- Crossing Physical Boundaries: Distracted players risk crossing boundaries that mark private property or restricted areas. Kids absorbed in the game might push past the physical boundaries they agreed to play within.
- Being Targeted for Theft and Assault: PokéStops are fun destinations for players, but they’re also perfect places for people interested in theft or assault to find distracted, unaware people carrying expensive technology. Wandering into more isolated or less safe areas, or into any area late at night with fewer people around, can increase the risk of being targeted as well.
- Having Other Stranger Safety Problems: With Lures, Gyms, and PokéStops, Pokémon GO is bringing strangers together, resulting in lots of fun new experiences – as well as some dangerous situations.
- Looking Like Trouble: Players’ words and actions can be misunderstood, increasing the risk of being perceived as dangerous. For example, two teens playing in their parked car were mistaken for thieves and fired upon. A man described getting so focused searching for a Pokémon that he failed to realize he had moved into picture-taking position and was aiming his phone at women doing yoga just a few feet away.
Practice Skills, Make Decisions, and Set Boundaries Prevent or Avoid Problems
Cyber-Safety: You’ll need real-world safety skills and online safety skills to have fun and be safe playing Pokémon GO. Since creating an account is the first step, we’ll start with some online safety basics:
- Make thoughtful decisions about your user name, passwords, settings, and what email you want to use for your account. Since policies change, plan to keep revisiting your settings in order to protect your privacy.
- Make agreements and set clear boundaries about making in-app purchases.
- Make agreements about sharing passwords and protecting access to any linked payment accounts. Set up automatic notifications about changes or purchases to go directly to the adults in charge.
- Learn how communication can happen between strangers and between people you know at each level of play. Make family agreements and set clear boundaries – now and then again each time features and options are developed – about initiating or responding to messages.
Awareness: Most real-world safety problems people have playing Pokémon GO happen because they’re distracted by the game on their phones and are not being and acting aware.
Device distraction is a challenge for people of any age, but for younger people and for many people with intellectual disabilities, staying aware while also playing Pokémon GO will actually be difficult or impossible. To have fun and be safe:
- Accept that Pokémon GO takes device distraction to a new level. The moments when the game is the most exciting are the moments it becomes the most distracting – and risky. Plan for this!
- Be realistic about a player’s developmental ability to stay aware while they play. A young person who loses all awareness of their surroundings while in hot pursuit of a Pokémon, or who gets so intent on capture that they’ll go farther than you agreed they could go, or who does not consistently respect boundaries marking private property or personal space, cannot reliably take charge of their safety while playing on their own.
- Consider planning for “Designated Observers” – adults or mature teens – who, like designated drivers at a party, will NOT participate. Instead, they stay aware of the players and the surroundings.
- Avoid making older kids the Designated Observers responsible for the safety of siblings, cousins, or friends. Supervising younger children or peers requires child management skills. Without these skills, providing this kind of supervision is socially and developmentally complex, can be stressful, can lead to conflict for everyone, and can be ineffective for protecting safety.
- Practice staying aware of your surroundings so you can notice possible trouble and take action to avoid or stop the problem early, before it grows.
- Practice acting alert, so you are less likely to be targeted as a possible victim by an attacker.
- Practice splitting your attention so you keep checking your surroundings without getting ‘tunnel vision,’ paying so much attention to the game that you don’t notice anything else.
- Practice speaking up about boundaries as well as acknowledging and respecting them. For example, parents can pretend to be Designated Observers saying “STOP” or “That’s the boundary,” while coaching kids to stand still, look away from the device over to their adult’s eyes, and say, clearly and respectfully, “I’m listening!” or “Thanks for speaking up!” Young people playing the game on their own can also practice setting the boundaries for each other, as well as responding respectfully.
- Review and practice age-appropriate Stranger Safety skills for the real world as well as online.
- Role-play the Stranger Safety habits you expect your child to use in general as well as specifically at Gyms and PokéStops, where strangers are now coming closer together physically in a new way.
- Visit Gyms and PokéStops with older kids and teens who will be playing independently and practice assessing the surroundings. Doing this with you will help them build the skills to assess when they are playing on their own.
- Review the difference between being in a place together with others who could help them, even if those others are strangers such as storekeepers, and being on their own in a more isolated place. The Safety Plan will be different in these situations.
- Review and practice apologizing respectfully and appropriately. Players need to be ready to offer sincere versions of “I’m sorry” in situations where their own distraction has led them to do something that someone else perceived as intrusive, even if that was not their intention.
- Review and practice age-appropriate skills for Getting Help in Public, such as approaching a worker in a store or restaurant.
- Remember – and remind everyone in your family – that Safety Is More Important Than Stuff. Practice setting down the phone, leaving it, and walking away to Safety, rather than fighting or arguing to keep it. Until you have practiced this with your child confidently in a way that is relaxed, upbeat, and emotionally safe rather than scary, the child is NOT yet prepared to play without you or another adult close by to stay in charge of safety.
- Teach young people who carry a mobile device independently skills for assessing when they will look at devices and when they will put them away and keep them out of sight to be safe. Technology is distracting and also can be interesting to steal.
- Build empathy skills together. Older kids and teens face a higher risk of being perceived as trouble; this has been true throughout the ages. Empathy skills can help them understand problems from different angles, even when someone’s response is not fair and even rude. Consider how it might feel to be at the park and notice someone a few feet away seeming to be filming you, or how it might feel to have someone unfamiliar parked or walking around front of your home very late at night, or how it feels to have someone disregard boundaries between rooms, properties, and other spaces. Strong feelings like fear or offense can make problems really big, really fast.
- Practice calm statements like, “I’m sorry I offended you. I got distracted playing Pokémon GO. I apologize. I’ll go.” Practice NOT looking at the phone but also NOT putting the phone away at these moments when people are upset. Putting it away would mean putting hands in pockets, and keeping hands relaxed, free, and visible can keep situations calmer and can reduce the chance of escalation.
- Review and practice Walk Away Power and Getting Help. If a person, place, or situation makes them feel uncomfortable, it’s safer to stop playing and think about what’s going on. Don’t ignore the feelings. Make the safest choice, even if it means missing opportunities in the game.
- Review and practice age-appropriate skills for Telling Trusted Adults about problems as quickly as possible. The teens whose car was fired upon were not physically hurt, but they didn’t tell their adults – they simply thought someone was trying to scare them away. We are confident their adults would have preferred hearing about the problem before finding bullet holes in side of the car!
Follow Your Pokémon GO Safety Plans
Kidpower encourages families to work together, involving kids in age-appropriate ways, in order to make Safety Plans. The most effective Safety Plans focus on skills, boundaries, agreements, and communication, not on danger, fear, or scare tactics.
Safety Plans are important for both real-world and cyber-safety. Technology will change, but decision-making skills related to online privacy and communication will remain a foundation for digital safety. Like all real-world safety skills, these skills are best learned over time, in an age-appropriate way, with adult coaching, so be sure to include older kids in the process of all the safety plan steps, such as reviewing privacy policies and options for settings.
Make clear agreements about any Safety Plan you create. Freedom to play the game comes with the responsibility to follow your family’s Pokémon GO Safety Plans. Younger kids playing with direct adult supervision might simply be told what the boundaries are. Older kids with more independence can benefit from a written agreement.
Set clear, general boundaries about when, where, and with whom your kids have permission to play.
Include boundaries about when and where they can join in with others playing on an account owned by someone outside of your family or your agreement. For example, maybe your youngest child doesn’t have an account, but maybe the friend they’re visiting after school does. What’s the plan if the friend suggests they play?
Be clear, also, about what behaviors will result in loss of permission to play – or, in general, loss of permission to use a mobile device independently if you have not already covered this in a previous agreement. Even for older teens, their adults usually pay device plan fees and will shoulder possible legal and financial burdens and responsibility if something goes wrong. Until someone is able to take on full legal and financial responsibility for an account of any kind, it is not fully “theirs”, and having access to it requires operating within agreements set with parents or others who have shared responsibility.
Continue to revisit your plan and make changes based on new knowledge, new developments in the game, changes in your child’s ability, etc. Continue to review and practice, not just discuss, skills. Talking about safety skills is like talking about swimming – it can be interesting or even stressful, but it doesn’t build skills. Practice builds skills.
Stay in Communication, and Have Fun!
Pokémon GO has opened doors to new opportunities and possibilities, and the whole point of playing is to have fun. Life’s more fun when it’s safe. Revisit your skills and plans, stay in communication to avoid confusion and to strengthen trust and understanding, speak up about problems – and have fun!
Our Kidpower Safety Comics series helps children, teens, and adults learn and practice these skills in daily life.