While the new must-have mobile app Pokemon Go gets people outside and moving, there are concerns that the game’s location and mapping features could lure players — especially young children and unsuspecting teens — into danger.
Using smartphones, players capture, train and battle virtual Pokemon — Pikachu, Blastoise, Charizard and hundreds more — who randomly appear in the real world.
Players throw out PokeBalls to catch the digital creatures at PokeStops, then train them at PokeGyms to take on other players. Stops and gyms generally are located at public places like schools, parks, libraries and churches.
But some PokeStop and PokeGym locations may not be safe, especially when Pokemon creatures pop up near the homes or workplaces of convicted sex offenders who’ve committed crimes against children and those found guilty of possessing child pornography.
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Pokemon Go developer Niantic Inc. offers no provision to remove these locations from the game. Even if they did, many sex offenders fail to update their registered addresses when they move or change job locations.
There’s no way to keep players with less-than-ideal motives from using Pokemon “lures” to attract children and teens to PokeStops for sordid purposes — even abduction.
Some states are banning sex offenders from playing the game and calling on Niantic for help, and some lawmakers are pushing for legislation to safeguard young children and teens.
Waiting on Niantic or legislators, however, is not an option. Taking safety precautions today is paramount.
With parental attention and supervision, children and teens can enjoy the new augmented reality craze and avoid real-world dangers.
Remember that children and teens are not immune to harm simply because they chase Pokemon creatures close to home. Youth can be abducted from their own front yard, neighborhood park or school playground.
Your child probably won’t be too excited about you tagging along, but it’s best for parents to accompany younger children.
You could download your own app and turn looking for Blastoise and Charizard into family fun.
Empower teens to take appropriate safety precautions. Make use of the buddy system. There’s safety in numbers.
Set up check-in times for teens so you know where they are and who they’re with. Playing at night is never wise.
Do some research on the areas where your children will try to “catch ’em all” before they go out to play. A simple Google search can help avoid unsafe locations.
Teach, remind and reinforce stranger safety rules. Make sure children and teens understand that meeting someone, especially an adult, at a PokeStop doesn’t make them friends.
The public can help ensure child and teen safety, too.
Evaluate circumstances that seem odd, call 9-1-1 if you believe a child is in danger, and note descriptions of suspicious persons and vehicles, especially license plate numbers, to share with police.
If parents and players are smart, stay aware of their surroundings and avoid risks — and if the entire community pulls together — PokePredators don’t stand a chance.
Katherine M. Brown is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Tarleton State University’s School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies in Fort Worth.