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'Pokemon Go' Gets People Out and About

July 15, 2016

Chip Underhill
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7326 (Desk)

The new fad of Pokemon Go has many potential good consequences, according to Loretta Brady, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-director of the Media Engagement and Developmental Impact Lab at Saint Anselm College.

Pokemon Go is a game played on mobile phones in which players capture, battle, and train virtual creatures called Pokemon. It combines the virtual and real worlds: on their phone screens, players see the creatures as well as the actual scene in front of them.

"Young people are actually out and about, sharing and interacting in a non-virtual world (the real one!)," said Dr. Brady, a licensed clinical psychologist and parent. "There have been stories shared of those with anxiety, autism and general distaste for being outdoors all finding themselves enjoying being out and being social."

"Additionally, there have been stories shared about neighborhoods, housing projects and apartments complexes with increased numbers of people interacting with each other. This means the potential for a sharp boost to social capital, even in settings with perceived crime or safety concerns."

Dr. Brady acknowledges cautions for parents about Pokemon Go, such as making sure children are careful crossing streets and wandering about, but she believes the game may start a new trend toward children and communities getting back to the outdoors.

Here are some of Dr. Brady's best practices for the parents of young children playing Pokemon Go. Their shared themes are media literacy, health and safety, and behavioral change lessons.

Consider the values important to your family. Do you want to teach your children the value of history, the opportunities for connecting with others and the benefits of being in nature? Take the walks and adventures with your child as an opportunity to actively engage in conversation. As you both hunt, share stories about the first time you went to this location. Add things for them to hunt for. ("Let's see what this plaque says about this monument." Or, "Let's say hi to the neighbor we spotted.") These conversations not only bring you closer together, but model for your child that what's important isn't necessarily winning or collecting, but being part of something bigger than themselves.

Model the safety you want to see. When my children go out, we create an opportunity for us to be outside together, with me acting as their eyes and ears. As we come to a street, I verbalize what we are doing. ("Let's put the phone down. Check both ways. Anything coming? Okay, which direction do you want to take now?") If we're in a park and I see them heading toward pavement without looking to see what might be coming, I say their name, ask them to stop, and ask them to notice where they are. In general, teaching children that a game that absorbs so much attention requires real effort in terms of safety. Requiring someone to be a spotter (who isn't looking at their phone) and letting one child be in control of the Pokemon Go game, helps prepare them to be safe.

Set healthy limits, both to protect your phone's data charges and to help kids understand that while the game is fun and engaging, there are other things to do with leisure time that might also be worthwhile. Since taking walks with the phone turned on can help you earn points, you might want to plan regularly scheduled walks without actively playing the game.

Model manners. When a signal came up suggesting a character was about to appear on our neighbor's lawn, we stopped and considered where we were, whether we could get permission to be there, and what we would do if this wasn't a house we knew well. Actively narrating the decision as you wrestle with it, helps children problem-solve similar dilemmas when they are hunting on their own.

Stress inclusion. If you have more than one child, try to rotate who gets to hunt, so no one child becomes "expert" to the exclusion of others. This helps them rely on each other and see themselves as part of a team, helping to reduce rivalry.

Engage your child with the questions you want them to be asking whenever they use new technology. Becoming informed and learning about the game and technology will help as questions and challenges arise. (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, who sees this activity? Some questions we couldn't answer ourselves, so we used the opportunity to do some research together online and found answers that made our decisions easier.)

The real opportunity with this phenomenon is the chance to explore the world together, to learn from one another, and to engage in our broader community in ways that may not have been as comfortable before. Note that children's capacity to learn and remember arcane rules is probably better than yours! It may be helpful to seek their advice while confirming for yourself.

Children in 5th grade and up probably have the capacity to explore familiar areas on their own, although it's a good idea to have a two-person team, one acting as a safety spotter. Teaching the value of teamwork and taking turns has many benefits even beyond Pokemon Go. Children younger that 5th grade can be part of a parent team.

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

More about Professor Brady

Dr. Brady is an alumna of Saint Anselm College (class of '99). Her research areas include risk and resilience, and she has developed a specialty in technology, employee training, diversity and organizational psychology. Brady is a licensed clinical psychologist with additional certifications in leadership coaching, addiction treatment, infant mental health, and conflict mediation. Her clinical efforts have served returning veteran's, chronically ill patients, professional teams, families in crisis, and patients with trauma and addiction.

Recently, Professor Brady took part in a new alumni program, Hilltop Travels Lecture Series, which is a forum for Saint Anselm faculty and administrators to share new academic research, provide information about upcoming initiatives, and to demonstrate all of the ways in which they are making a difference on campus and in the world. She kicked off the inaugural Hilltop Travels in New York City on Wednesday, June 22 with her talk about "Resilience, Resistance, and Revolution: Lessons on the Influence of Adversity and Diversity in ‘Hamilton the Musical.'"

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