I admit it. I enjoy playing the occasional video game with my kids, so when Pokémon Go was released, it seemed like a great opportunity to spend time outside with them. I downloaded the app on my phone, signed in with my Google account, and after I picked a name and style for my on-screen character, I was in.
My first expedition into this imaginary world was taken with my 5-year-old son, Thad. We walked around a few blocks in our neighborhood, but neither of us knew exactly how the game worked. It wasn’t until the app signaled that we were close to a Pokémon that we figured it out. We simply tapped the little icon that appeared, and a little capture mini-game began. After a few attempts, we had successfully snagged our first imaginary creature. For over an hour, we had a blast together as we "hunted."
During the next few days, Thad would say, “Remember our Pokémon hunt, Dad? Let’s do that again!"
My two oldest boys, Cale (9) and Megersa (6), have become the biggest Pokémon fans in our family. They were quick to jump into the fun as soon as they realized that their favorite characters from the screen seemed to come alive. I don’t even need to Google for the info on a Pokémon when Megersa's nearby because he's my knowledge base for all the details about each creature.
Over time, my wife, Katie, heard about the adventures I was enjoying with the kids, and she wanted in on the fun. After going to the library with them one morning, she decided to take the kids on a walk downtown. They caught several Pokémon and discovered a few landmarks in the process.
Anyone who has been a collector — of sports cards, coins, stamps — understands the drive that kicks in and pushes you to complete the collection. Pokémon Go is exactly that — a collection. My wife and I both enjoy that aspect of it, along with how it’s another active way to spend time together as a family.
As my family and I have gone on these little adventures together, I've come to realize that my older boys are ready for some real-world hiking and camping trips (separate from Pokémon Go, of course). Also, my wife and I have learned more about the personalities of each of our kids as we get to see the way they react to both disappointment and victory.
As we work together, the kids take turns catching the Pokémon while the rest of us cheer them on. Cale often takes charge and establishes the rules for how the turns will work, and we are more than happy to let him keep things organized. We get to watch our kids interact with each other on our journeys and announce their catches with excited shouts or exclamations. The only competitive issue we face is making sure each kid has equal playing time, which is a never-ending challenge for most activities.
I’ve been especially proud of our other 5-year-old son, Shepherd, as his natural tendency to share and help others has come to the forefront during our family treks. On more than one occasion, he has given up his turn because a favorite Pokémon of one of his siblings came into view.
However, it’s not only the kids enjoying the experience. Throughout the day, my wife and I send each other pictures of our latest catches, and tips on where to stop on the way home. We are sharing the same adventure, which makes the experience that much more fun.
As a family, we are invested in the game. It isn’t a chore to show genuine excitement over what our kids have collected or for them to show excitement over what we’ve found. This game allows us to have fun together while still moving toward an agreed-upon goal.
It would be easy to hand the phone to our kids and send them out the door, but there’s a real opportunity to enjoy and use our imaginations when we play together.
It’s easy to criticize a game or mobile app for keeping families glued to a screen — and that’s a valid criticism. But Pokémon Go gives my entire family a reason to get outdoors together, which is refreshing.
The biggest boundary that adults face with Pokémon Go is to avoid using the phone while driving. That’s true of all phone usage, of course, but because this game throws so much at you based on your location, it’s tempting to check what’s nearby at each stoplight.
Up to this point, setting time limits for playing Pokémon Go hasn’t been necessary for us. With my young kids, the biggest boundary that we’ve put in place is that they need to ask permission to use a parent's phone. Since we aren’t yet ready for our children to have their own phones, it would be great to see the game supported on kid-friendly devices.
If that were to happen, though, my wife and I would probably need to set other boundaries, such as 1) Don’t play until your chores and homework are done; 2) Don’t go to places that you haven’t asked permission to go; 3) Know the places that are appropriate for hunting, such as parks, and the places that aren’t, such as the backyards of strangers or in church. Also, because of the potential for ads to eventually be incorporated into this game, we would want to keep the lines of communication open with our children.
When Katie and I have an afternoon free to take a walk or when we are going for a drive, we will often pass the phones to the kids and let them catch away. We monitor what is happening through what our children say, and at this point, we don’t have to worry about their buying in-app purchases. If they eventually want items that go with this game, they will have to work — in the real world —for the money they need.
Over the past several days, as we’ve had more active, outdoor family bonding time because of this game, Katie and I have taken the opportunity to talk with our kids about understanding the difference between real life and make-believe. Whether we are watching a Disney movie, pretending to be army men, playing with stuffed animals or catching Pokémon, we make sure each of our kids has a healthy understanding of what we’re doing.
While outside, we’ve all paused to reflect on God’s creation on more than one of our Pokémon Go adventures. There have even been times when I’ve put the phone in my pocket and said, “For the next few minutes, let’s see what real creatures we can find that God created.” It’s a great reminder to each of us that although Pokémon Go is a fun game, it’s just a game. The real wonder comes from being out in nature and having fun as a family.
While on a walk with my daughter, Neve (3), a few nights ago, in between catching Pokémon, we talked about every topic under the sun. She was thrilled to have one-on-one time with her daddy, and playing the game kept us moving and having fun.
Because the game features an “augmented reality” mode, it can use the phone camera to make it look like the Pokémon are in the actual environment around us. At one point during our adventure, my daughter spotted our neighbor’s cat and shouted, as she tried to catch it, “Oh look! A kitty Pokémon!" The experience was priceless.
And now it's time for another teachable moment.Need help navigating the obscure world of Pokémon Go? Download our Pokémon Go Guide for Parents that highlights discerning discussion points to help you decide what is best for your kids.
Download: A Quick Pokémon Go Guide for Parents
Video game review: Pokémon Go