Yesterday, I spent two hours walking behind my kids as they hunted for Pokémon characters. I really don’t understand how this hot new app works but my kids are utterly beguiled by this game that lets them hunt for Squirtles, Jolteons, Raichus and Pidgeots in their own backyard and beyond. They’re having fun and best of all, they’re outside, walking great distances, running to different locations, and getting fresh air.
So, why was I trailing them?
Some might assume I’m a helicopter parent, hovering over my elementary school-aged kids to keep them safe from any predators, pedophiles and perverts (which if you read the newspapers are taking over America’s neighborhoods).
You’d be wrong. The real reason I was following close behind them wasn’t because I was worried about my kids being scooped up by an unmarked cargo van; it was because I was worried about my iPhone—a device that I sometimes think I love more than my children. Okay, not really. But it’s a close call.
Sadly, unlike me, many parents do worry about letting their kids roam free—fearful of the police calling them a negligent parent or being scolded by a nosy neighbor. But now, parents might have to set those worries aside and give in to the pressure to let their kids wander. And that pressure is coming from an unlikely source: their own kids.
Pokémon GO has only been available for one week and already the mobile app has set records for number of downloads and revenue (as of this writing, Pokémon Go has an estimated 7.5 million U.S. downloads and $1.6 million in daily revenue). The app has proven popular with children and adults alike but parents seem particularly thrilled with the game because it forces kids to go outside with the added benefit and persuasive kick that they can still play on their mobile phone.
The result has been praise for an app that increases kids’ physical activity. Hot Air’s Larry O’Connor quipped that “Pokémon GO got more American kids off the sofa in four days than Michelle Obama’s seven years of haranguing.” He’s correct because despite all the speeches, programs, school lunch changes, and costs to the American taxpayer, studies show that kids and teens continue to fail to get much exercise, which at least in some part contributes to stagnant obesity rates in this country.
Of course, no positive technological advance can go without a few naysayers. And with Pokémon GO’s success, naturally, the nervous hand wringers have begun to circle, like vultures overhead, warning that this app could spell doom for millions of vulnerable players.
Just this week, a Madison, Wisc., television channel reported that a group of teenagers robbed players by using the app to luring them to their location (because apparently people can’t be lured using anything else but an iPhone app). The station also reported that multiple people are “being injured from running into buildings and other objects” just like people sometimes do when staring at their phones or talking into them (yet there seems to be no call to ban mobile phones).
The app’s potential to kill has become such an important public health crisis that it even solicited a statement from University of Wisconsin Pubic Information Officer Mark Lovicott, who tried to sound sanguine while warning people that a Pikachu might just spell their death:
We want people to have a fun time but just don’t walk in the middle of the street. We have had people biking in the street and using it who are weaving in and out of traffic; it’s just not safe. We just don’t want someone to get seriously hurt or even killed…
No Pokémon character is worth getting hit by a vehicle, and that’s what we are worried about.
Even government officials from the tough streets of New York are worried about these tiny cartoon characters. The New York City Subway’s official twitter account showed a picture of a Doduo (yes, I had to ask my 9-year old the name of that Pokémon character) on the edge of the subway landing and warned the masses of public transportation consumers, whom they clearly consider to be idiots:
“Hey #PokemonGO players, we know you gotta catch ’em all, but stay behind that yellow line when in the subway.”
The Daily Mail’s warning was predictably horrifying, claiming Pokémon GO puts your kids at risk of pedophiles. Another newspaper showed pictures of bruised legs and bloody hands as a warning that the app can lead to physical injury. Of course, the Today Show advised their major demographic of viewers – moms – to freak, saying: “The trouble is, it’s leading some players into real-world danger, from bumps and bruises to armed robbery.”
It’s fine to remind people, particularly kids, about the need not to get distracted when playing a game and prioritize safety. But, we shouldn’t blame this game for dangers that are really just a design flaw in human beings.
People do make mistakes, particularly when distracted, and technologies create new opportunities to get in trouble. Cars are dangerous if driven while distracted. Bicycles (a rather old technology) can sometimes veer out of control, dumping a rider in the street. Cooking can sometimes lead to house fires if the cook becomes distracted. Playing baseball can sometimes lead to broken bones as people charge recklessly round the bases. Walks in the park can put someone at risk of bees and, these days, West Nile- and Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
Shall we all stay inside and hide under our beds?
Or shall we try something different: reminding ourselves and our kids that life comes with some risks and mitigating those risks is key to living a long, injury-free life.
If you think your kid is incapable of watching out for themselves while playing this game, be a parent and don’t let them play. It’s simple.
As for the adults using the app, it’s sort of a Darwin Awards moment. If they fall face first off a curb, bang their head on the side of a building, or get hit by a bus, we need to remember, it’s not the app’s fault.
Until man invents an app to cancel out human error and erase distraction, we need to accept responsibility for our actions.
Julie Gunlock is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.