By Loretta Brady, Ph.D.

For parents who have bemoaning the fact that their children don’t go outside enough for fresh air and exercise, the new Pokemon Go craze may be welcome. There are a number of potentially positive consequences to this new fad, not the least of which is they have to be outdoors, moving about, to play.

Personally, I’ve been thrilled that my kids and countless others are interacting in the real world, a non-virtual one! It has been widely reported that children with anxiety and autism are eager to be outdoors in a social setting.

For those unaware, Pokemon Go is derived from the Pokemon trading cards of the late 1990s. It has players capturing, battling and training virtual creatures, Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world, using GPS and the camera.

While parents should always exercise caution whenever their children play in busy areas – they should make sure they’re careful when crossing streets and wandering about – I believe we may be seeing the beginning of a trend away from indoor activities. Here are suggestions for parents with teens playing Pokemon Go:

  • Use the searches with your child as an opportunity for values-based conversation. As you hunt, share stories about the first time you visited a location, or say, “Let’s see what this plaque says about this monument. Let’s say hi to Mrs. So-and-so.” These conversations show that winning and collecting may not be as important as connecting with people and learning about one’s surroundings.
  • Be safe. When my children go out, I act as their eyes and ears. As we come to a street, I say, “Let’s put the phone down. Look both ways.” If I see them heading toward pavement at the park, I say their name, ask them to stop, and ask them to look for vehicles.
  • Set healthy limits, to protect your data charges and to help kids learn the value of spending fun time away from their devices. Since taking walks with a phone turned on helps to earn points, try to take walks without actively playing the game.
  • Use the game to exhibit manners. When a signal came up suggesting a character was about to appear on our neighbour’s lawn, we stopped and thought about asking permission to be there, and what to do at a stranger’s house. Actively narrating decision-making helps children problem-solve when they’re on their own.
  • With more than one child, rotate who gets to hunt, so one doesn’t become “expert” to the exclusion of another. This builds team work and reduces rivalry.
  • Research the game and technology to help as questions and challenges arise, then engage your children. I went through a list of questions when my son wanted to evolve a character I had captured—does it cost anything, can it be undone, what happens next? For some questions, we went online together and found answers.
  • Teens are probably able to explore familiar areas on their own, although it may be best to encourage two-person teams, one acting as a safety spotter.

Finally, if you want the benefits of this game without the technology, there are always the good old-fashioned scavenger hunts and geo-caching games that have been fun and popular for many years.

Dr. Brady, a psychology professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, is co-director of the Media Engagement and Developmental Impact Lab at Saint Anselm. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist and parent.