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My 6-year-old son really enjoys his Pokémon Go, a game on the mobile phone. Mainly because:

  • it is something he does with his dad (we are together but our son spends more time with me, and so he seems to value dad's attention more)

  • it is screentime (stuff happens, bright colours, yeah!)

It goes further: he draws Pokémon, his make-believe games revolve around Pokémon. The worrysome part is he also craves gaming. He will go to bed saying he cannot wait till tomorrow when he can play again/will go on an in-game raid with dad/will finally catch that rare Pokémon.

There are already several questions about (mobile) gaming and small children, mine is slightly different because of this obsessive behaviour.

His old phone is almost broken and I have to decide if he gets a new one so I am trying to list the pros and cons so that I can decide whether I should be cruel to be kind to stop it here or allow this to continue.

I think obsessing over whatever tickles one's fantasy is normal for children. I used to obsess over magic in stories believing that if I tried just a little bit harder I would be able to conjure something.

However I'm worried because in this case his obsession

  1. is coupled with a computer game which is tweaked to make it extra addictive
  2. is bad for his eyesight
  3. leaves little to the imagination
  4. alienates him from his peers because it is all he talks about.

In addition, continuing places a burdon on me: I will have to be the bad guy and guard time-limits very closely. We have no limits yet but I want to limit it to 3 or 4 times a week, 30 mins, max 45 mins and dependant on doing chores.

On the plus side:

  1. he enjoys it
  2. he learns he cannot always win
  3. he learns more reading and numbers
  4. it is something he and dad like doing together
  5. he walks around outside a lot
  6. he learns a little planning and budgetting
  7. it can be used to make boring shopping trips rewarding

Are there any other considerations I am missing?

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    can you elaborate on the obsession side? Is the game interfering with his schooling/sleep/chores etc, from what you've written it looks like genuine excitement on his part. – RappaportXXX Aug 21 at 14:05
  • @RappaportXXX pretty much what i have written, it is the last thing he thinks about before bed and the first thing he thinks about when waking up. He was away with grandparents for a few days and when we called his only question was if his dad managed to catch that rare pokemon for him. – Ivana Aug 21 at 14:14
  • A big question is, is he willing to put the game down when you say to? Can he close the game at home (or only spend a few minutes doing maintenance?) Or does he insist on looking through his pokedex constantly? If you went to the zoo, would he be glued to the screen the entire time, or is he able to spin a stop, catch one creature, and then close it for an hour? – swbarnes2 Aug 22 at 19:40
  • I play a lot of Pokemon Go, and I'd say it's one of a very few mobile games that's not overly engineered to be addicting just for the sake of being addicting. You could play all day and not get anything noteworthy, unlike games that make sure you always feel like you're about to hit a goal and therefore won't put the game down. Between that and how it requires you to get out of the house and interact with others to play it effectively, it's not a bad way to spend leisure time. – Kat Aug 31 at 23:11
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As video game addictions go, Pokemon Go is one of the better ones. The value of having your child outside and walking around is tremendous.

I see two possibilities here. Either he is actually addicted to the game (and if you take it away he will find another less healthy one to obsess over) or he is craving more daddy time.

Either way the answer is the same. Taking it away probably isn't the best course of action at this time. If it becomes a problem bad enough to interfere with his life that's a different story, but it doesn't sound like this is the case here. Diverting him to something else is probably a better course of action.

If he is prone to computer addiction, there are things you can do to manage that. Some good tips at https://www.additudemag.com/prevent-screen-time-addiction/

You didn't mention anything about your husband's personality, or if it is possible for him to spend more time with his son doing something other than Pokemon. Let me give you a little perspective from my own experience.

I'm not a person who has an easy time interacting with children. Because of my ADHD, I find myself too easily irritated or bored, and although I don't like that about myself, I haven't been able to change that tendency. I'm kind of a computer addict myself (I program all day at work, then come home and get back on the computer, either work related or computer games)

Discovering Pokemon Go was fantastic for me. Yeah, it's a silly game, really, but it was a way I could interact with my kids and get exercise without feeling irritated or bored. It was electronic enough to hit my electronic-addiction buttons so I could enjoy it. I have wonderful memories of walking around the large artificial "lake" in the center of town, hitting all the Pokemon stations and catching Pokemon with my husband and kids.

If your husband is like me, he may need a little electronic help to interact with his son in a way which is emotionally positive for him. My own father, like me, was not comfortable around kids, nor did he enjoy much outside his work. Family time with him was torture. I am still unable to completely enjoy camping even though I love the outdoors, because of the memories of his anger lashing out. Even at that age I knew he wasn't enjoying being with us, that he was forcing himself to it.

Obviously, if your son is craving daddy time and there are other activities that he can do with his father, that would be the best way to wean him from Pokemon. If those could be healthy outdoor activities like playing sports, camping, hiking, etc, that would be best, but it might not be something your husband enjoys.

Several years ago I discovered World of Warcraft. It is one of the few things my daughter and I both love to do, and the closest thing we have to a regular family activity (all members in the family are extremely computer oriented people). We set up a Skype session and sometimes join with aunts and uncles and cousins to play multi-player games. The thing I liked best about the game (besides the fact that it was fun) was that even the youngest kids could play (as the token adult, I usually played a paladin so I could draw fire from the littles and heal them when they take damage). We've been playing for years now, and the game is still a great way for cousins and siblings of different ages to play together.

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I would say while Screentime is always an important decision, in this case I see it as substantially more positive than negative.

Addressing your concerns

  • He isn't isolated or using it to avoid social contact, in fact it is a bonding opportunity with his father, it is fairly rare to have an activity a child and parent both genuinely enjoy so this is a precious opportunity
  • It's an active game, from what I understand it involves moving, traveling either by vehicle or walking, meaning he is getting out, getting exercise and actually enjoying it, it feels like this makes it overall a positive health influence rather than sitting around a computer
  • According to the American Optometric Association the risks to vision from using screens is largely mitigated by looking at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes (the 20-20-20 rule), given this game involves walking about outside I would be extremely surprised if this wasnt happening naturally, and if it isn't I would say you should encourage his father to ensure they spend at least some time looking at real far away objects in reality (birds, nice fountains, parks all make good distractions and are plentiful outside)
  • You would likely be surprised about the effects on his relationships with his peers, in truth most kids are using mobile games these days, and it is probably actually a common ground he can socialize around, particularly if he struggles to make friends it's likely an easy common interest and conversation starter, though of course you should monitor as to if he is actually making healthy friendships and if not investigate this further
  • It is relatively educational for a video game, it includes numbers skills, visual spacial practice, strategy and understanding rules, keeping track of collections and items for memory, and various other skills that are useful in reality

Pros and Cons

Honestly I feel limiting this activity overly would be a negative influence, I realize you want to make the best choices for your child but opportunities for a parent to bond over a mutual hobby are rare and will likely get rarer as he ages. There is something to be said for simply cherishing the times one can enjoy with their child rather then obsessing over if it is the "best" use of time. Children can usually notice if you genuinely enjoy being around them, and I know for a fact I deeply bonded with my father over game and computer related activities which ended up forming a life-long bond, which I don't feel I would ever would have made without that.

Buying a new phone or not is your decision and your money, but I would seriously consider the positives and negatives of this activity and if it is worth compromising on an ideal to lower screen time to allow for genuine bonding and the other benefits involved. My final advice would be to observe if this game is actually impacting his life, is he happy, productive, keeping good relationships with friends and parents? If so I would say this game is likely a positive, if not I agree you should investigate if this could be a cause of some of the issues, but do not try and fix something which is not creating a problem.

TLDR

What is it you really want to solve? And if you do remove or reduce this game from his life will you replace it with something he enjoys and can bond over or just leave him sitting around unhappy, unstimulated and bored?

  • @AnneDaunted Thanks for the feedback, I added in a link to the page from the AOA discussing the potential problems and ways to mitigate them. – Vality Aug 21 at 21:56
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    Good point about alternatives. There are a few but they 'tick different boxes'. For example Lego, however this is an indoor activity. – Ivana Aug 23 at 8:02
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For the most part, limited screen time in children at that age is seen as potentially positive. The AAP sees an hour or so a day of educational programming for example as actually beneficial, and while Pokémon Go is not strictly educational it’s probably better than most in that regards. In addition, they recommend screen time alongside the parent, which helps you teach him how to manage his screen time and helps his dad give him more attention. It also as you note gives him a great bonding opportunity with his dad. It does sound like you have a reasonable amount of time for it; you're under an hour a day, which is great.

As for educational value, for example, it can help learn about the surrounding area and the landmarks and history of where you live. It also teaches map reading skills, math, and literacy. Certainly better than another match three game, or most television shows.

You’re certainly right that there are downsides also, as there are with any game. And for some parents and children, they outweigh the benefits. Some kids might have trouble with only having a few minutes at a time, or with putting it away, and cause enough trouble that it’s not worth the benefit so.

Hopefully, you aren't the "bad guy" here, or at least not exclusively. If this is a game he plays with his dad primarily, seems like he should be the one enforcing the limits? But either way, I think enforcing limits doesn't need to be an adversarial relationship after the first little while; for the most part, once the rules are part of the landscape so to speak, they are just the rules, and children get used to them. In addition, I think learning how to manage the time is a good skill itself. I’d rather my children learn to set limits and to get their ‘must’ done before there ‘may’. In that sense it’s a good social learning tool as well.

As far as some of your other concerns; odds are he won’t be the only kid into Pokémon in his friend group, or won’t be for long. Around six or seven is a common age for kids to discover the Pokémon franchise. Personally I think the other parts of the franchise are better than many similar options at this age; the message of Pokémon is for the most part to be the best person you can be and to help others be their best, and that’s a much better message than many me-first shows and games these days.

As far as eyesight I think that applies less to an active app like Pokémon Go than with games that involve only the screen. Recommendations for screen use usually include looking up periodically; in Pokémon Go that’s mandatory given the nature of the game. Walking around and looking for the landmarks mean plenty of eye movement and changing perspective. If you are concerned about that part of it though see an optometrist; they can recommend limits appropriate to that age.

And speaking to the obsession, it's quite normal for children to obsess over their interests at that age. Part of your job is to make sure the obsession doesn't harm them; but again, learning to manage an obsession is an important skill, hopefully something they'll learn before they leave the nest. He's not the first child with a Pokémon obsession, and won't be the last; help turn it into a good thing, which it sounds like you already are. My children invent stories with their Pokémon, create interesting drawings, make up their own cards, and have a lot of pretend play with their stuffed Pokémon. This is all of the things they'd be doing anyway; it's just tinted Pokémon color for now. It will be tinted some other color next year, possibly, or combined with something else.

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