So you’ve just found out about Pokémon Go! and you’re cringing. Even your church or synagogue or community center has a PokéStop (a what?) in it, and the aliens we call adolescents there are begging for a Pokémon Go! Safari Night. One of them has even asked whether you—technology-challenged you—might have dropped the lure. Is this just one more craze, one new strategy, one fresh scheme to alienate adolescents from adults, kids from their parents? No! Not at all! Not if you follow this guide.
Teens don’t need parents who coddle their obsessions, but they do need friends who’ll join them in their new adventure. Pokémon Go! is a huge part of their world right now, and, believe it or not, you can access it pretty easily. And in some ways, it’s even better if you don’t “get it.” Ask them for help—chances are they’ll be happy to assist you—and you’ll win all kinds of street cred just for caring enough to be a part of their subculture. Once teens know you respect them and want to learn from them, all kinds of barriers will come crashing down. Hand over your phone and let them take it from there. Join them on the journey.
Don’t Dismiss It
You’ve seen fads come and go. (Remember moon rocks?) Some of us have even started the countdown until Pokémon Go! is going, going, gone! One option, given the wisdom of your age, is to roll your eyes at Pokémon and push your kid to something more, well, intelligent or sane (in your eyes, of course). If you’re prone to roll your eyes and redirect your kids, stop. Just stop—and realize that meaningful conversations can be built on fleeting interests. (Some of my best friendships as a kid were built on Super Mario Brothers, Vanilla Ice, and Reebok Pump shoes—hardly the stuff of hardcore cultural significance.) So join your kids where they play. Celebrate what is happening now and join their experience rather than forcing them to join yours.
Figure It Out
And their world isn’t so bad, after all! Pokémon Go! uses cutting edge technology to allow you and your kids to experience your everyday world in fresh ways. You’ll walk (yes, with real legs and feet, not virtual ones) in actual environments and visit real community watering holes to discover, collect, and train virtual pokémon creatures. Here’s how it works:
- You and your kids stop at GPS-specific, designated landmarks (PokéStops), where you’ll gain rewards and PokéBalls, which you’ll need to capture the pokémon.
- After you capture, catalogue, and store the pokémon, you’ll level them up for competitions at PokéGyms, which you’ll find in public places. (Think geocaching—but with an incredible virtual interface.)
- The game interface is impressive and will encourage you and your kids to be active, alert, and adventurous in actual environments.
Don’t worry. It’s pretty simple. And fun. Did I say that? Fun. Most of the furrows on your brow will disappear within 15 minutes of play.
The rumor mill has already turned a full rotation with tales of Pokémon Go! being used to deceive young people. While unfortunate stories feed these tales, it should not strike unwarranted fear in you as parents. Resist the temptation to overreact and ban the game entirely; look instead for safe places for your kids (you, too!) to play the game. Use Pokémon Go! as an opportunity to discuss and shore up your internet safety policies and practices. If your church or synagogue or community center is home to a PokéGym or PokéStop, make sure the leadership is on board and up to date with best practice procedures for providing a safe place. In fact, Pokémon Go! offers a fantastic opportunity for education on internet safety, both in your home and in your kids’ communities.
Consider Why It’s Working
Take time to ask why Pokémon Go! has caught on and ask yourself, “Why the appeal?” Talk with other parents, too, about its appeal. You may be surprised to hear, after years of watching kids’ gaming in dark bedrooms and dank basements, “Pokémon Go! got my kid outside,” or “Pokémon Go! got my child engaged,” and even, “Pokémon Go! got my teenager connected to other kids.” Then consider what Pokémon Go! is doing that our churches, synagogues, and community centers aren’t. Maybe we can learn some things from the people who created Pokémon Go!. Here are just a few:
- teenagers still want to go out and play.
- unscheduled free time is still alive and well—and healthy—in the age of high-pressure organized sports.
- kids don’t have to be great athletes to play games.
- youth desperately need outlets where they don’t have to take themselves too seriously; being a kid is still about mystery.
- neighborhoods can be viable communities.
Neighborhoods and pokemon? Parents playing with kids? Go figure!
By Bart Patton
Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Education
For a detailed look at how parents and church youth leaders can use Pokémon Go! to develop healthy relationships with kids, see Bart’s guide to Pokémon Go!