Child Playing on PhoneAs parents of young children, many of you probably remember the original Pokémon game, which first hit shelves in the United States in the mid-90s. (Some of you may even have played it yourselves!)

Various versions of the game and its popular cartoon creatures have remained on the cultural scene since then, but like every new game, technology or trend, the buzz surrounding it eventually quieted down. Then came Pokémon GO.

In less than one week, Pokémon GO became the most used game app of all time.

What it’s all about

Pokémon GO is a free, location-based, reality mobile game that can be downloaded as an app on most smartphones. It allows players to explore the real world via their phone's GPS and camera functions, attempting to capture Pokémon creatures in locations all over the world.

To get an idea of the massive popularity of the game, just watch this video of a huge crowd running through Central Park upon reports of a rare Pokémon sighting.

To play or not to play?

Some parents are asking their pediatric healthcare providers if it’s OK to let their children play Pokémon GO. While there isn’t much data available yet to support the establishment of official guidelines, one thing that’s clear is that there are some very strong opinions about the game – both its upsides and downsides.

On one hand, the game seems to support certain core principles of a healthy lifestyle that physicians promote to families every single day: Get outdoors and be more active.

But Pokémon GO loses health points when it comes to limiting screen time, because it requires constant contact with a smartphone.

Another reason for caution: safety. There have been reports of injuries and accidents, including pedestrians getting hit by cars, and even drivers crashing because they’re distracted by the game.

“We’re starting to see serious pediatric extremity fractures in our offices as a result of the game,” says CHOP orthopedic surgeon Jennifer Winell, MD. “Most of these injuries are happening to teenagers who were not with their parents when the injury occurred. This reinforces how important it is to supervise your children while playing the game, or if they’re older, sit down and talk to them to reinforce safe practices.”

In the end, it’s up to parents to weigh the risks and benefits on their own and decide what’s right for their children. But if you do allow your child to play, be sure to take the risks seriously so that the game stays fun for everyone.

Tips for playing safe

So how can you make sure your kids stay safe if they want to play?

  • Supervise, supervise, supervise. While there is no formal recommendation on player age limits, if your children aren’t old enough to walk around your neighborhood alone at night, they shouldn’t be playing the game without adult supervision.
  • Join the fun. Lots of parents play Pokémon GO with their kids — it’s a great way to bond and get exercise together. “Every night this week we’ve walked two to three hours — I’m not exaggerating!” says Sara, mother of 12-year-old Stuart. “We walk to a park that’s about 1.5 miles from home. There are always people there playing the game. Stuart talks to people and we walk all around to find Pokémon. He often makes observations about nature and other things while we are walking.”
  • Know where to play, and where not to play. Explain to your kids why it’s important not to wander into unfamiliar neighborhoods or locations that may not be welcoming. Make sure your children also understand they should by no means be trespassing on private property or otherwise restricted grounds.
  • Emphasize how important it is to be aware of your surroundings. Explain to your children how easily an accident can happen if they are hyperfocused on their phones while walking along city streets or driving a car. Many of these injuries can be prevented with better awareness and attention to what’s going on around you. Based on the injuries she’s seen, Dr. Winell suggests a few simple rules to live by: Don’t play while riding your bike; stay on sidewalks and never wander into the road; and avoid uneven surfaces where you might trip or fall into a hole.

Another recommendation: Set healthy limits. For example, if you have screen time rules in your house, let your child decide how he wants to spend his allotted time, but be clear that Pokémon GO counts toward his total screen time for the day. Limiting screen time is an important part of a healthy lifestyle (for both kids and adults!), and there are plenty of other outdoor activities that kids can engage in without being glued to a phone.

Pokémon GO can be a great way to spend time with friends and get exercise, but as with all activities, moderation is key. Encourage your kids to balance screen time with phone-free time to get the most out of their summer!