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Should your child play Pokémon Go?

Here are things to keep in mind if your child is going to play Pokémon Go.

Today's guest blogger is Jacqueline Scheier, D.O., a primary care physician with Family Care and Women's Health at Crozer-Keystone at Broomall.

For the uninitiated, Pokémon Go is a new augmented reality mobile game sweeping the nation and the world. The app uses your smartphone's GPS to locate you in the game and make Pokémon characters appear around you. Players, called "trainers" in the game, search out these characters in their local community and "catch" them with a swipe of their finger.

Pokémon Go as a fitness app
It may come as no surprise that kids are increasingly spending their summer vacations glued to screens – TV, video games, smartphones and tablets. Some screen time is fine, but if kids don't venture outside to play – and in turn exercise – it isn't in their best interests.

Approximately 75 percent of children and adolescents fail to get at least an hour of moderate physical activity each day; and children between the ages of 12 and 15 are most likely to embrace their inner couch potato, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not coincidentally, more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

Unlike most video games, Pokémon Go requires trainers to get off the couch and explore their community. Additionally, once a trainer catches a Pokémon, they have to walk a specified distance to unlock the character, typically between two to five kilometers.

So, a new game that encourages kids to go for a walk is a great thing, right? Maybe…

Surprising dangers of Pokémon Go
There are some safety concerns that kids and their parents need to consider. Even though players are getting exercise as they search for characters, they are still glued to their screen. Walking around with their phones in front of them, not always paying attention to the outside world, participants can trip, fall or bump into obstacles.

In the short time since the game launched, players have been hurt by walking into ditches, running into poles, falling off skateboards and, even, getting into car accidents because they were viewing the world through this app on their phone. Players of all ages need to keep their heads up and be aware of their own surroundings when searching for the nearest Pokémon.

A lack of situational awareness isn't the only risk though. In Missouri, police have reported that armed robbers are using the games geolocation feature to target players. The game allows users to drop a type of lure at a specific geolocation to attract new Pokémon. It is believed the robbers dropped these lures in isolated locations and waited for the unsuspecting players to follow the Pokémon to the spot.

Should your child be playing Pokémon Go?
It is a part of the parents' job to make sure their children are learning healthy behaviors, including getting regular exercise. By staying active, kids occupy their bodies and minds, burn off some calories and stay fit, and can develop a commitment to exercise that becomes a healthy habit as they get older.

If Pokemon Go helps your child to stay active, then it is good game for them to play, provided they have appropriate supervision. Make sure you know where and when your child is out searching for Pokémon, and talk to them about the potential risks.

Other Ways to Get Active
Whether your kids download the app and play or not, it's still important to put down the gadgets and get outside regularly. Here are some ideas for parents who are struggling to pry your kids away from their screens and get their blood pumping.

  1. Go for a hike. This can be a trip to a local park, a walk through the woods, or simply a walk around the neighborhood.

  2. Go swimming. The kids will almost certainly never say no to this. They don't have to be swimming laps at an Olympic-sized pool; simply splashing around in the water, playing tag or whatever game they can think up, is good exercise.

  3. Play in the yard. Whiffle ball, chasing fireflies at dusk, climbing on a playset – these are all fun activities that will keep the kids in shape.

  4. Do some chores. Granted, this might not be the most enticing activity for kids, but it is good exercise – cleaning closets, mopping floors and picking up their toys not only gets them off the rear ends and active, it also helps out Mom and Dad by uncluttering the house. Alternatively, if you have a garden, have the kids help out there. It's hard work, good exercise, and they'll get to see the benefits of their labor.

When kids are spending time outside playing, make sure they have plenty of sunscreen on and stay well hydrated. If their outdoor activity involves a phone, remind them they need to look up from their device while playing.

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