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Earlier this year the news was dominated by stories of Pokemon Go. Entire streets were filling with people transfixed by their phones and chasing a Vaporeon, and reporters were paying more attention to their phone than their security briefings at the White House.

In a house with two boys and a girl all aged under seven, there was absolutely no way we would escape the full majestic power of Pokemon Go. And so the promise was made that we would spend a weekend playing it as much as they wanted. The surprising result? Pokemon Go is a great way to get out and get active. But you need to follow a few rules for it to work out without too many tears.

Pikachu1. Set the ground rules
For those of who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of this game, here are the basics: You walk around while your phone creates a virtual world based on your real-world location. As you move around, Pokemons (little monsters) appear, and you have to catch them. There are locations called Pokestops, where you can get items to use on your quest. And there are gyms, where you can battle other Pokemons using your Pokemon to gain control of… look, don’t worry. The kids will explain it to you.  Anyway, it’s a good idea to start with some rules, particularly if you have more than one child playing. The easiest way to share is to set a limit of one Pokemon and one Pokestop per turn, then the player swaps. This lets them catch something and get something during their go. Another good one: put a limit on how many Pokeballs each person is allowed to throw. My two-year-old nearly cleaned us out in the first 20 minutes. Apparently they are important…

2. Use all the goals in the game
Obviously you are trying to catch Pokemon, so that is one goal. But you can also get eggs and incubate them by walking certain distances. Ideally, the further you walk, the better the Pokemon will be that you hatch from the egg, so walking a fair way becomes a real challenge with an achievable goal at the end. If you doubt the power of this, my daughter who is not yet three walked 10.6 kilometres. Thank god we got a Pikachu at the end of it (and she also slept in the next day – bonus).

3. Encourage the chatting
The social benefits of this game cannot be underestimated. On a beautiful winter’s day we saw thousands of people all out in the fresh air, doing the same thing. It’s one of the few times when it is OK for your kids to walk up to strangers and talk about what is on their phone! Strangers walking along the path chatting to others about virtual monsters they caught on their phone is completely ridiculous, but it sure feels a lot more friendly than everyone minding their own business. Take the dog and enjoy the community atmosphere.

4. Learn something
Your kids will get benefits for their minds as well as bodies by playing Pokemon Go. My middle son would struggle to find his way out of a paper bag but he is almost deadly at tracking a Psyduck using a GPS and local landmarks. They can practice their reading on the names and their maths on working out how many points they need to evolve their Pidgey. Also, they will get to see some great landmarks across the city that they might not ordinarily notice, as well as some that are completely tenuous and slightly obscure. A particular highlight was when we discovered that our local pub is also a Pokestop…

5. Enjoy the crowd
According to research, the need to belong is a fundamental psychological motivation; it’s the reason we value families and sports teams – we like to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Your kids are forming their own views on this in the brutal reality of the playground, so it’s a great feeling  walking with them as equal participants in a massive social movement. Because let’s face it, your kids are going to become heavily involved in fads that you will have no interest in – yes, loom bands, I am talking about you – so enjoy it while you can. Oh and don’t stop walking, you’ve got to catch them all!