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Family Fun with Pokémon GO

My kids have begun inviting me on excursions into the great outdoors. In the past week, we have trekked through expansive neighborhoods, explored community parks and journeyed to our hometown’s old business district. We have logged tens of thousands of steps, traveled many miles and encountered roving groups—made up of children AND adults—engaged in a similar quest.

I wish I could say these explorers had finally heeded the cry to “put down the screens and go play outside,” but that isn’t the case. Turns out, the screens are the very thing leading folks outdoors and encouraging a serious uptick in physical activity.

Go, Pokémon GO!

Remember those little creatures from the 90s? They’ve escaped the trading cards and now inhabit nooks and crannies of every American community. Using a free mobile app, along with a smartphone’s GPS and camera, would-be trainers help Professor Willow collect and study the original 151 species of Pokémon.

At its simplest, the app turns your entire neighborhood into an enormous scavenger hunt. And you really must go… and move… and explore… to collect all of them. There are plenty of advanced features too, satisfying the problem-solving skills that attract so many to video games. Evolving creature lines, collecting PokéBalls at PokéStops and vying for control of Pokémon Gyms (all scattered throughout your community) is sparking imaginative play in young and old alike.

The Benefits

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist… or public health official… to recognize the importance of getting off the couch and on our feet. In fact, many in the medical community (including myself) wish we had thought this up a long time ago. In addition to physical activity, the game encourages cooperative play—in teams. And like the case in our house, parents and children can enjoy moving and exploring together.

The Pitfalls

Like any form of outdoor physical activity, common sense rules apply. Here are some important points to keep in mind.

1. Know where your kids are and who they are with. If you aren’t able to participate together, make sure your child sticks with a group. There should be at least one responsible member who knows what to do in case of an emergency.

2. Remain aware of your surroundings. Fortunately, you don’t have to stare at the screen as you move. When your mobile device buzzes, stop and engage the activity. Then put your phone down and start moving again. Be careful and watch for cars and bikes and other objects (including fellow explorers!).

3. Heed the usual safety recommendations. Cross at cross walks and obey all traffic signals. Wear helmets if biking and stay away from off-limit and secluded locations, even if the game contains elements that lead you there.

4. Beware of spending money. You can power up with dollars, but it’s more fun (and healthy) to travel and find what you need—for free!

5. Keep the momentum going. Like all fads, Pokémon GO will likely fade, especially as summer gives way to a new school year. Take advantage of your child’s interest in getting off the couch and playing outdoors. Create your own scavenger hunts, explore local parks and remain active long after the next new thing comes along.

Pokémon GO is quickly becoming all the rage for summer 2016. It’s free and encourages lots of physical activity. Sure, there are other ways to stay active, but for me and my kids… we gotta catch em all!

Mike Patrick, MD
Dr. Mike is an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s and host of PediaCast, our pediatric podcast for moms and dads. Each week, PediaCast covers news parents can use, answers listener questions, and delivers interviews with pediatric experts on a variety of topics. Dr Mike is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, where he serves as a faculty advisor for medical students. On the home front, he is married with two kids: a college-aged daughter and a son in high school. Prior to working in the emergency department, Dr Mike spent 10 years in a busy private practice, a time he says most prepared him for the practical advice he shares on PediaCast. Dr Mike also has an interest in roller skating. He learned to walk with skates on his feet, and his first job (age 10) was as a disc jockey at his hometown roller skating rink. He has also worked as a DJ at two radio stations, experiences which further prepared him to host our podcast!

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