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The Pokémon Go craze has officially hit both Canada and the US by now and EVERYONE is buzzing about it. Kids are asking their parents everywhere to venture outside with a device to catch a Pikachu or to go to a Pokéstop to grab more Pokéballs. But hold up — what does all of this mean!?

If you’re not totally up to speed on this craze, or need some help understanding what it all MEANS, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got tips on how to help you bond with your little one (and how to get outside and explore) with this new app in a safe and exciting way. So, without further ado…our ultimate parent’s guide to Pokémon Go!

So, wait. What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is a new app that uses your smartphone in real time and using your real location to create a virtual world around you. It’s a little like geocaching but COMPLETELY virtual. You aren’t going to be finding any objects in the real world (like geocaching).

So, using the Pokémon Go app, you could be walking down the road near your house and your smartphone will show you as a virtual Pokémon trainer walking in the exact same area in your smartphone app. To be honest…it’s pretty cool. It also uses your camera to show you wild creatures (Pokémon) when you encounter them. You can then use your phone to catch these Pokémon.

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Photo from Niantec/Nintendo

What makes the Pokémon Go app even cooler is that different important places in the game are actually important places in real life. For example, it’s likely that if you have a park or a trail close to your house that will be a Pokéstop. This is where you can go refill different tools that you’ll need to continue to play the game and to catch Pokémon with.

The ultimate motto of Pokémon? “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

You can see where we’re going with this. There are hundreds of these little creatures to catch!

If you need more info on how to play – there are loads of details on the internet already that a quick Google search can pull up for you!

The Benefits

It’s pretty cool to be outside exploring real world landmarks with your child (without having to drag them kicking and screaming…). You get to visit parks, trails, and other neat spots that you might not have ventured to before. Even if you have to drive to a large park or new space, there are usually lots of different Pokémon related things to explore there so you can make an afternoon of it with your family. It’s also awesome that this app encourages activity and health in a way that may motivate your child to get out and about. Plus, it’s just a great new way to bond and spend time together. Most kids are going to really have a blast with it!

We’ve also seen a few stories on the internet of children who are shy or autistic becoming more social because of the app – which may be a bonus if you’re finding it’s hard to get your little one to come out of his or her shell! If you live in a small neighborhood, it may be an excuse to meet and chat with the parents and neighbors that you haven’t met yet.

But — Safety First!

Like anything, with this new app comes new ways for your child to put themselves in harm’s way. We’ve put together a little list of things to keep in mind as you and your kiddo navigate this fun and exciting Pokéworld together:

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  • Location Services: while using the app, you’ll have to have location services turned on. This means that the app can locate where you are and watch your movements. It sounds creepy, but a lot of apps do the same thing. It’s something to be conscious of. If it truly makes you uncomfortable, you can always turn the location services off when you’re not playing the game.
  • Sharing Devices/Screen Time: if your little one doesn’t have a device yet, keep in mind you’ll have to share your device with them when you want to go hunt Pokemon together.
  • Data Usage & Bills: depending on your phone plan, the app will almost always be using data during the times that you’re out looking for Pokémon. The app requires most users to leave wi-fi friendly places in search of these little virtual Pokémon…which means you may have a whammy of a bill at the end of the month. There is a way to track your data usage on your phone (and online with most cellphone providers too) that you can keep an eye on if you’re nervous about it.
  • In-App Purchases: there are certain items that you can purchase in-game. If that’s not something you’re into, be sure to let your little one know that in-app purchases are out of the question. There is also a way to turn off in-app purchases on an iPhone or to set a password on an Android before a purchase is made.
  • Common Outdoor Dangers: there are lots of dangers that you may encounter while looking for Pokémon (running water, trails, cliffs, traffic, private property and so on) that you both need to be conscious of. Keep in mind that even though you MAY want to grab that Pokémon in someone’s backyard…it’s trespassing so just let it go.
  • Stranger Danger: stories are emerging about there being dangerous situations occurring with strangers. Remember that if you’re going to visit a Pokéstop, then so are lots of other people. There is nothing in the app to stop a potentially dangerous stranger from standing at a Pokéstop and waiting for someone to arrive. Be sure that you and your child are aware of your surroundings and of the people around you too. If a situation doesn’t look right or you’re uncomfortable, walk away.
  • Phone Battery: The game will DEFINITELY kill your battery quickly. If you’re out in the middle of the woods with your little one and are relying on the GPS to get home, make sure that you’re keeping an eye on the battery level. If your teenager is playing the game and their cellphone is the only way for them to contact you when they’re out, make sure that they’re aware of their battery levels too.
  • Age Limits: If your child is old enough to be playing Pokémon Go on their own device, chat about all of the above dangers with them openly and honestly. Maybe you sit down together and discuss where and when they can be playing the game so that you know how far they’re wandering outdoors. If your teenager is old enough to be driving be sure to stress NO POKEMON GO (or cellphones at all for that matter) WHILE DRIVING. Yes, you may get the dreaded eyeroll but SAFETY is the most important thing. At the end of the day, you know your child best and you will be able to make the judgement call about how often, where, and when they can play the game.