Case Study - How Pokemon GO Almost Caught Our Family
(A guest post from John LaMorte in the Online Safety Group community)
Until I had children, I associated social media with dating sites, chat rooms and texting. Then my two sons became “tweeners” and forced me to take a stronger look at this platform. As it turns out, it is far further reaching than I first knew. It doesn’t even have to take place on a computer. There are our smart phones, which are a constant conduit to all the web has to offer. We have smart T.V.’s which expands our exposure, and the gaming industry has made it accessible to its users through the gaming consoles.
As a boy, I would grab my favorite Atari games, and walk across the street to Joe’s house. We would play lying next to one another. Tethered by the controller, which was wired to the television. We were set. Discussions took place in real time because there was no headset adaptation included. Our parents heard every word we uttered. At best, we could have called someone and talked to them on the phone while we played, but on the other end they couldn’t see the same game that we were playing. When our allotted TV time was over, we would go outside and tell our friends all about what we had achieved. That was how we socialized with gaming media.
Today my youngest son Emmett will spend time playing on his Xbox, or his brothers PS4, systems each of my sons saved and paid for on their own, using birthday and Christmas money. Aside from playing with his friends from school, he has developed friendships with some other children. He plays with kids he has met through other friends, some as far as 1,500 miles away. He and Joe’s son have shared their log on ids so they can play games together. That’s a nice aspect for today’s gamers. Our sons can play together almost like we did, and they haven’t met in person yet. I took for granted that it was still as innocent as it was 35 years ago.
My niece, who is the same age as Emmett, was playing online games at her house. She developed a friendship with someone that she thought was her age. This person was always online the same time she was. In reality, this person was probably online all day. My niece was invited to meet her new friend at a strip mall, approximately a mile from her home. The plans were solidified. My niece felt that because she knew the area, she would be safe. Fortunately for our family, my niece is honest and told her mother what she was planning on doing, and who she was going to do it with. My sister in law was able to stop the situation, and notified the authorities who have looked into the matter, but have yet to close out the case or even come close to finding this predator.
Both of my sons started playing Pokemon Go. A great game in the sense that it gets the kids off the couch and into fresh air while playing their games. In about four months Pokemon Go has been downloaded to over 500 million devices around the world by kids as young as six years old. A potential predators dream. The suspect doesn’t even have to make an online connection. Just download the game, find where the most popular Pokemon monsters are, and then just wait for a defenseless child to come along in their pursuit of the Pokemon. Or, a defenseless teenager holding a $600-$700 smart phone wanders in the dark towards the suspect, like a deer to a feeder. It is easy to see the dangerous possibilities.
Both of my boys and their friends participate in these games. Once we saw the potential dangers it was our duty to set rules to protect them. No Pokemon Go at night, and during the day, they can only hunt the Pokemon in groups that include four or more friends. A couple of the guys stand back on their phones, staging themselves as lookouts, then they switch, so they can catch their Pokemon, ‘Gotta catch them all’, as they say. They take pictures of each other when they head out, in case something happens there is a quick way to identify each player to the authorities if needed, (I actually insisted on that to put an extra ounce of fear into them.)
At home, online gaming requires speakers instead of headsets, so we all can hear the discussion. It worked well when I was a kid, it can’t hurt them today. We discuss issues when they happen, such as my niece, or when we see something negative on the news which may provide an opportunity reinforcing why we have rules. The biggest thing is a change that we got away from. Eating at the table together each night. Making family time. It’s hard sometimes, but definitely worth it in the end.
Today I see social media as anything that involves our personal electronics. From the TV, the computer, the phone, to the tablet, and even gaming systems. The methods of interacting have multiplied, and because they have, so have the rules for our household. The kids sometimes don’t like it, but they understand that it is a condition for them to play, and they accept it.