Why Pokemon GO is so popular with your teen...

Pokemon GO is sweeping the nation. Kids (and adults) are running around trying to spot imaginary characters floating in the real world. It’s getting kids outside and moving but they are still looking down at their screens. This is a highly seductive game that has found a way to tap into the reward centers of teen’s brains. Some things to know about teen’s brains:

  • During adolescence is when a person is most susceptible to pleasure-producing behaviors and substances.
  • The part of the brain that is responsible for things such as planning and impulse control (the frontal cortex) grows slowly over the teen years and is not fully developed until our 20s. 
  • MRI brain scans of people that play video games for about 20 hours a week show patterns similar to scans of people addicted to drugs. 

Most of the kids out there are just having fun and exhibiting compulsive thoughts, not necessarily addictive behavior, but if you feel like your child is struggling with a game addiction this is what to look for: 

  • obsessive thoughts
  • significant negative life consequences
  • withdrawal (i.e., being severely annoyed when not on a screen)
  • tolerance (needing more and more time)
  • using the activity to relieve anxiety or guilt

Distraction is a real problem with this game.  Whether they are walking without looking and then falling and bumping into things or using it while driving. this can be physically dangerous. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of teen death. According to the NHTSA "Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of driv­ers who were distracted at the time of the crashes."

Please tell your kids to look up.  

Common Sense Media did a safety review and says:

“Playing the game, which appeals to a wide range of ages, involves various safety and security issues, including allowing the possibility of full access to your Google account (for players who log in via Google) -- though the developers are in the process of addressing this situation at the time of this review. Other risks include physical injury due to distraction, being directed to unsafe places or onto private property, and even becoming a target for assault or robbery (all of these things have already happened to players in the real world). A player's location is tracked, stored, and revealed to nearby players, including both children and adults.”

For those kids that are inside playing video games for hours, this is an improvement. But, for kids that are not generally seduced by games, this seems to be pulling them in too. Kids are already spending a huge number of hours on their devices. Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that boys spend about 1 1⁄2 hours a day on average playing video games, while girls spend on average about 40 minutes day playing video games. On the other hand, according to a Common Sense Media census, girls spend on average 1 1⁄2 hours a day on social media while boys spend about 50 minutes per day. One of the big questions is: does this replace the time youth spend on other games and social media or does it add to it? 

What do you think?