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Keeping Kids Safe in the Virtual World of Pokémon GO

If your kids are immersed in the virtual world of Pokémon GO, there are some things you should know to help keep them safe as they search for Squirtles and Pidgeys. Pokémon GO is the augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm since its release in July. The game, which was developed and published by Niantic, is free to play and compatible with iOS and Android devices, leaving the door to Pokémon GO wide open for many kids and teens.

The game has many benefits, such as encouraging physical activity as users walk along a virtual map in search of Poké Stops, where they can fuel up on supplies, like Poké Balls and potions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that obesity rates in children have more than doubled, and in adolescents the rates have quadrupled in the past 30 years. Any excuse to get our children moving seems like a great idea, provided they’re aware of their surroundings and conscious of hidden dangers lurking in a seemingly innocent game.

Lures: In the game of Pokémon GO, players can toss out lures to attract Pokémon to specific locations, also attracting other users who seek out the same characters. Remind your kids to pay close attention to their surroundings and to be wary of strangers who might use the game with malicious intent. Encourage kids to play as a group to limit their risks. Talk openly with your kids about potential threats, including strangers, using these helpful tips from the guide “The Reality of Child Abductions” from KidsHealth® or “My Child Keeps Talking to Strangers! Help!” by Kidpower International.

Traffic Safety: When your eyes are glued to the screen of your cell phone or iPad, it can be difficult to pay attention to the real world around you. Accidently walking into a crowded intersection becomes a real danger when your focus isn’t on traffic patterns. Remind children and teens to stay on the sidewalk at all times and travel with a friend. The makers of Pokémon GO have recently added new safety warnings to the game, urging users to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid trespassing, to be alert at all times, and to steer clear of playing while driving. Safe Kids Worldwide provides a host of resources for parents, including “Pedestrian Safety for Teens.”

Tech-Injuries: “Text Neck” is an overuse or repetitive stress injury caused from hunching over a handheld device for an extended period of time. Long term exposure to this position can impact the curvature of the neck and spine due to habitual strain. Remind kids to take a break every 15 minutes or so and to bring the screen up, instead of constantly looking down. For additional information, read “The Text Neck Epidemic” by South County Physical Therapy, Inc. The Rush University Medical Center has reported that “Texting Thumb” and Cubital Tunnel syndrome, an increased tension in the nerve of the elbow, are also caused by technology-related activities like texting, emailing, or gaming. Though these injuries rarely occur in children, the University recommends best practices to avoid injuries later on in life.

If you’re curious about the game, ask your child to show you its features, and help them navigate safety concerns as a team. As long as users are mindful of the world around them, in addition to the world on their screens, Pokémon GO might propel your kids off the couch this summer, helping them to engage in exercise and explore their neighborhood in a whole new light. They might even make some new friends for the start of the school year!