Whether you’ve simply been looking out your front window or following the news, you’ve likely witnessed the rise in popularity of Pokémon Go. The new app, a treasure hunt for animated characters within a player’s own real world surroundings, is getting plenty of media attention.
Nineteen days after its release, Pokémon Go had been downloaded 50 million times. The game has already sparked conversations among parents and professionals about Pokémon Go’s impact on education.
“With such a fast rise to fame, knowing the long-term effects of Pokémon Go on kids is impossible,” says Anne Clarkson, University of Wisconsin-Extension digital parenting education specialist. “However, we can apply what we know about other technologies to better predict how to make using new media, like Pokémon Go, a safe and positive experience for kids and parents.”
Technology’s impact on kids
For generations, parents have been concerned about the negative effects of new media. They may seem tame today, but fairy tales, radio and television all raised concerns when they entered the cultural mainstream.
“New media and technology do change the way we interact with our world,” says Clarkson. “Parents can use these new interactions as learning opportunities.”
For example, rather than forbidding children to engage with new media like Pokémon Go, parents can use digital games and spaces to strengthen their relationship and help children develop more discriminating media skills.
Tips for parents
Clarkson says that the key parenting goals of safety, love and learning can help you decide how and if your child will interact with a new technology. She offers questions parents can ask themselves to help assess the impacts of new media.
—How can my child be safe while using this technology?
Treat technology like any other environment in your child’s life, Clarkson says. You should know who your child is with, where they are, and what they are doing. Set privacy settings, with your child’s help, to “friends only” on apps. Consider having your child log on to apps with an email account they use only for apps and that is not connected to any personal information. When leaving the house to play, set age-appropriate boundaries (“the backyard” or “the park” or “no further than your school”).
—Think of scenarios your child may encounter when online, such as being asked to meet an online contact in person, receiving a mean message, or deciding if they should go on private property to catch a Pokémon. Have your child practice how to respond safely in those situations before you give him or her access to a mobile device. None of these safety measures are one-time-deals; regularly sit down with your child to assess and practice online safety.
—How will I use this technology to show my child I care?
“New media and technology can provide numerous openings to show your child you care,” says Clarkson. Some parents play the same game as their child and then text screenshots back and forth of the Pokémon “monsters” they caught or achievements they unlocked. Others send funny texts or talk about their child’s online posts. New media functions best when it is used as a tool for interaction rather than a distraction or babysitter.
—How can my child learn and grow from this technology?
Humans are learning machines and learn without appearing to try when fully engaged. Few kids would say they were learning while playing Pokémon Go. But some things they may have learned include knowledge of community spaces (PokéStops and Poké Gyms are linked to public locations) and clearer communication skills (since playing in a group is recommended).
Clarkson says that parents can shape what children learn from new media and technology by intentionally choosing the games kids can play and talking about or playing them together. “You can also let kids be the teacher—admit that you don’t fully understand how to play a game or use a new media and ask your child to guide you,” says Clarkson. This approach can give children a sense of accomplishment, and gives both an opportunity to talk in depth.
New media and technology both expand and shrink our world—increasing the places we can access and the spaces that parents need to monitor. The role of parents and other caring adults is to ensure that kids are safe, feel loved, and have the skills to process and learn from the world around them, whether that world is real or virtual.