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Is Pokémon Go safe for young kids?

Noticed more people than usual walking around town staring at their phones? Thank the new gaming phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. Today, we’re exploring what this new game is all about, and whether it’s suitable for young kids.

A brief history of Pokémon

Pokémon was created in 1995 by Japanese video game designer Tajiri Satoshi. The word Pokémon is short for Pocket Monsters, which was the original Japanese title of the franchise.

The game was originally developed for Game Boy, but it’s now available as a trading card game, animated TV series, movies, comic books, toys and of course, other gaming platforms.

The latest incarnation of Pokémon is an augmented reality game, which is played using a smart phone or other mobile device.

How does Pokémon Go work?

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game. This kind of technology has been around for many years, but hasn’t really hit mainstream audiences until now. Put simply, augmented reality allows people to interact with the physical world, and augmented elements that are not part of the physical world.

For example, using Pokémon Go, players can see the real world around them through the camera on their phone. They can also see Pokémon characters within this real world environment, but only when looking through the viewfinder on their phone.

Here is an example of what the game looks like to people through their mobile device:

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Rules of play

  • Players download the app to their smart phone.
  • Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be asked to customise an ‘avatar’ or character, which represents you.
  • The character you have has a backpack, which is where players store the items they collect along their adventure.
  • The app needs to access your location in order to work. It then shows you where ‘Pokémon’ are located near you.
  • The map you see is like a brightly coloured Google Map, which is also animated. Bushes rustle when Pokémon are in the area and real landmarks double as PokéStops and Pokémon
  • Players must then find the Pokémon and catch them by tapping them.
  • Your goal is to catch as many as you can. Different Pokémon have greater and lesser value, depending on their rarity.

Is Pokémon Go safe for young kids?

Given Pokémon Go gained huge popularity in the 90’s, many of its players are actually aged between 20 and 30 years. We were unable to confirm if there is a minimum age limit for the game, and many sources appeared to say there is not.

With anything related to raising a child, we believe it is important for parents to make their own decisions about what is suitable. The same goes for Pokémon Go.

Here are some facts that will help you make a choice that suits you and your child:

  • The game does require your child to have access to a phone, so if you believe your child is too young to be alone with a phone, then they are arguably too young to play the game.
  • The game does require access to your device’s location settings, which may have privacy implications.
  • The aim of the game is to find the Pokémon and catch it, which means your child could wander into a dangerous situation. There have already been cases of people having near misses crossing the road to catch Pokémon. In the US, a 19-year old girl stumbled on a body in the woods while hunting a Pokémon.
  • On the plus side, the game does get kids outdoors. There have been really positive articles stating the game may improve mental health for people who would usually prefer to isolate themselves from others.

For more information on safe gaming and social media for young children, please join our Safe Social Media community on Facebook. You may also like to check out our eebudee app, which helps kids, parents and friends of the family learn how to use social media safely, in a secure and private environment.

Two children, siblings on parents' bed at morning with tablets. Brother and sister play computer games. Siblings and gadgets. Children in glasses.

When kids use gaming to escape stress

When eebudee founder and father of 2, Mike Fairclough, separated from his partner; his young sons immersed themselves in technology. He didn’t realise it at the time, but his boys were using gaming and the online world to distract themselves from the stress and upheaval caused by the separation.

Mike spoke with us about when he realised their technology use was a problem, and how he helped restore balance in his children’s lives.

eebudee: You said you noticed your boys turned to technology during your separation, can you tell us more about that?

Mike Fairclough: I didn’t realise it at the time, but technology was being used by the kids to escape. Whereas an adult might turn to alcohol, or you know, drugs or something, my kids really did turn to gaming and screen time to escape what was a pretty terrible situation for them. There was conflict in their household, their mum and dad were separating and they were caught in the middle. I’ve only really recognised this in the last few months.

I guess the thing that solidified it for me was the Telethon Institute Research that I saw and I thought, my god, that’s what happened to my kids. My boys are 9 and 7, and I love them, their mother loves them, and their family loves them dearly, so they’ve got a support network. But not withstanding that, I now know that they immersed themselves in technology. At the time I was feeling emotionally at my lowest point, I felt that it [technology] kept them happy, and that was good for them and just gave me the space that I was requiring as well.

eebudee: What behavior changes did you notice in your kids at this time?

Mike Fairclough: Well, they became very withdrawn and I think it was escapism, essentially. But after a time if there was disruption to that world, they became cantankerous, they would be fighting with one another, fighting with other kids, lethargic, not wanting to be active, not wanting to learn or go to school. And this [technology] was really a huge crutch for them – I can understand that now, and I allowed that to happen.

I didn’t know really it was happening at the time. They were interested in technology and gaming like all kids, but their family circumstances were such that I think they were drawn to it and gravitated to it and didn’t want to let go of it, and I can understand why.

Now that I know that, and I’ve spoken to other parents in similar circumstances to mine, I can see this behaviour has a common thread, and it’s born out by the research the Telethon Institute did.

eebudee: It’s understandable parents could miss this kind of behaviour, as addiction to gaming is a fairly new thing.

Mike Fairclough: I think my 2 boys have come through a really, really tough time, and it’s not something you’d want your own children to experience of course. It saddens me as a dad to know that I’ve been party to their emotional turmoil. So now, not withstanding that, we’ve all got to get on with it, and I see, particularly in one of my lads, a real – addictions not the right word – but a real ongoing focus and desire to be gaming and having screen time, and now, talking about being connected on social media.

It’s natural enough for these kids, because they’re getting iPads at 4 at kindergarten anyway, but I think certainly in my case, and other parents in circumstances such as mine, that it [the emotional upheaval] precipitated a greater desire to game, be online, do more and more screen time than otherwise may have been the case.

eebudee: Did things improve after the period of upheaval following your separation? Have you implemented anything to support your kids?

Mike Fairclough: Yeah, I think that as tensions eased around their mum and dad breaking up and the heat had gone out of the exchange, they still wanted to game and be on social media, but I was able to put things in place, as my wellbeing improved, to help them balance their day and their activities including screen time and gaming, better.

I use certain tools to manage how much time they have. For example, I have a raffle ticket book and if they want 15-minutes to play Minecraft or a game they’ve got to do 15-minutes of homework or reading or kicking the footy or hockey or whatever that might be, to earn that. I don’t do a one for one by the way! It’s not 12 hours of screen time and then 12 hours of other stuff. I use that and we promote balance. I also take the devices away at a certain time each day. It’s been a long, tough journey at times with this, and I know other parents are having the same sorts of challenges.

eebudee: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice while the separation was happening, what would it be?

Mike Fairclough: I would say to myself that I am a good dad, and I’m trying to be the best dad I can be with every aspect of the boys’ life. What I now understand is that I need to be a really good dad for their online world as well as their offline world. Especially because it [the online world] moves so fast, and as an older dad, it didn’t come naturally to me. It moved really quickly and got past me before I even saw it.

I know there are parents out there like me, and perhaps younger mums and dads can get it quickly, but it needs to happen young. They’re getting iPads at 4, and they’re getting exposed to mum and dad’s iPhones and stuff very early in the piece, so we need to be helping them very young. As much as we might think it’s too young or it’s rubbish, it’s their world.

eebudee: Do you have any advice for other parents out there?

Mike Fairclough: It can look overwhelming and it’s easy to say like my parents say, ‘oh technology, I don’t need that I don’t want that, it’s too hard for me’. The reality is that if you spend a little time each week or each day on it, it’s not that overwhelming. I think it’s about getting your attitude right and saying, ‘I can do this’. And the consequences if I don’t do this may be consequences that I couldn’t live with.

I come from a farm, I’m 52, and I had a situation where I thought social media was the biggest load of rubbish I’d ever heard and seen. And I worked out that that’s fine for me to think, but that attitude isn’t going to help my 2 sons. So I had to really refocus and change my attitude to say, ‘you know what, social media is not my life, but it’s my sons, and while I might think it’s a load of rubbish that’s fine’.

I’ve got to get in there and be interested in Minecraft and be interested in what they’re doing online and be part of it. And I’ve got to be on Facebook and keep learning and stay with them through this journey because if I don’t, there will be consequences I wouldn’t be happy with and I want to be the best parent I can be.

eebudee: Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?

Mike Fairclough: Talk to other parents and know that you’re not in it alone. We’re all going through the same journey. We’re all wanting to be good parents. We’re all wanting to be the best and you can learn so much and get great ideas from talking to one another. I see eebudee, for what it’s worth, and Safe Social Media, with our community and our friends, as an opportunity for us to help one another, maybe now or down the track when members of our Facebook community feel it’s the right time. We can all help one another to help our kids and help the community. Don’t be an island in this. Don’t think you’re doing it on your own, because you’re not.

Head here for more on eebudee’s journey so far. If you have personal experiences with the issues Mike has discussed above, please feel free to share your insights with us in the comments section below, or on our Safe Social Media page on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you, and believe sharing the common challenges we face is so important for parents in this digital age.

 

Father and son playing the computer games

Study shows parents should be gaming with kids

Remember when you’d sit down to a game of Scrabble or Monopoly with the kids? Research quoted by forbes.com says the modern version of this family bonding could be gaming.

According to psychology, games and family writer, Jordan Shapiro, playing games with your child not only helps you to understand what your child is doing online, it also forges a stronger connection with them.

Fostering conversation

Shapiro said that gaming with his children helped to bond them during the difficult period when he and his wife were separating. His kids became excited about spending time with their dad, and the experience also fostered discussions they would not normally have had.

For example, Shapiro found he was able to explore issues with his children, which linked the real world with the world of his child’s gaming. In essence, games became a conduit to great conversations.

Arizona State University (ASU) Researcher Elisabeth Hayes was quoted as saying:

“Gaming with their children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’”

Bonding through gaming with your kids

Another key reason to spend time gaming with your children is simply to take an interest in what interests them. Encouraging your child in their gaming efforts helps to bond you. Games such as Minecraft really do require a high level of problem solving and creativity, so encouraging this is certainly a positive thing.

Understanding gaming

Knowing what your child is doing online is another big issue for parents of the ‘social media’ or ‘online’ generation. Engaging in gaming yourself allows you to understand what your child is doing online, which means you are more informed about your child’s online life. You can then determine what is and is not appropriate, based on your child’s age and capacities.

Sharing gameplay

Parents may not realist that many games are designed for shared play. Hayes told asunow.asu.edu that:

“Often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving.”

This is especially the case with adolescents and younger children who are showing signs of isolating themselves in their gaming. Sharing the experience with them can help to bring them out of this isolation, and encourages connection and conversation with you, their parent.

For more information on the study by ASU, please visit this link. If you’d like to know more about helping you child balance gaming, social media and technology with offline life, please Like our Facebook page, Safe Social Media for Kids.

Screen-life balance for under 12s

Is Minecraft Safe?

Minecraft is the most played online game in the world. But what is it about? And is it actually safe for our kids?

We’ve taken time out to give you an overview of what the phenomenon of Minecraft is all about. Plus tips and tricks for keeping your kids safe while playing.

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a sandbox* style of game where players dig and build 3D blocks inside an expansive world made up of different habitats and different terrains. Think of it like this:

  • Dig = mine.
  • Build = craft.

Hence the name, Minecraft.

Within the world, night and day happen at specific times (just like the real world, but a lot faster). Players contend with the sun rising and setting, as well as rain, lightning and other changes in weather.

Depending on the level you’re playing, you may also need to work out how to survive hunger, opponents trying to sabotage your efforts and other dangerous elements.

* A game that features an ‘open-world’ where each player can move around freely and/or perform missions within the game. The world can be molded like sand in a sand box.

So it’s like Lego?

Even though you’re building a world of 3D blocks, the game isn’t really like Lego at all. It’s more like creating a world that is only limited by your imagination, and then having adventures within the world itself.

Depending on what setting the game is on, this may mean running away from monsters or other bad guys, or trying to survive the night and defend the home you have just built.

How does it work?

What’s really cool about Minecraft is that even though there may be multiple players in the same world, everyone is able to set their own objective or mission. This means everyone’s experience of the game is a little different.

Some kids may want to start each game in a different world, which means dealing with new terrain (AKA biomes) and creatures (AKA mobs).

Kids can play a single player game, or multiplayer (with other people) and must choose between 2 modes of gameplay:

  • Creative – the player cannot die* and has unlimited blocks and other items to build structures with.
  • Survival – the player must source and build structures, which will help them to survive injury, hunger and even attacks from bad guys.

Each of these levels has their own level of difficulty, as well as different challenges that need to be overcome.

For an even more in-depth understanding of how to play Minecraft, head to this nifty blog by minemum.com.

* The term ‘die’ is used to describe when a player fails to succeed in Survival mode. This is one reason why young players may fare better in Creative mode.  

Is Minecraft safe?

When played in multi-player mode on a public server, kids are able to interact with other players via a chat function. Keep in mind that these players may be complete strangers.

It’s a lot like taking your kid to the park and letting them hang out with a stranger, without supervision. This ‘stranger’ could easily be another kid or an adult.

Even though most players on a public-server are there to have fun, there may be some who use inappropriate language on chat, and even attempt to sabotage your child’s buildings.

Remember, there are many different people playing on public servers, and each individual is likely to be following a different set of rules. This means some players will cheat, or choose not to follow the rules of the game.

So what can I do?

We highly recommend taking the following steps to ensure your child has a safe and fun time playing Minecraft:

  • If your child is under 13 years old, make them play as a single-player.
  • If you do let your child play multi-player, do so with other people at home using a LAN server. You could also create a multi-player server yourself.
  • Only join servers operated by individuals you personally know and trust.
  • Play the game yourself, so you get an idea of what experience your child is likely to have.
  • You could also join a family-focused server, which uses whitelisting. Here is a list of 11 Family Friendly Minecraft Servers Where Your Kid Can Play Safely Online.

Head here for more insights into Minecraft safety for kids. You may also like to join our Facebook community, which offers resources and tips for keeping kids safe on social media and online.

Got a comment or insight to share with other parents? Please leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.