Should Children Play with Monsters?


Time Magazine
22 November 1999
VOL. 154 NO. 21
by Lisa McLaughlin
If you go by word origins, monster must demonstrate a moral, a lesson, a value. What values do the Pocket Monsters demonstrate? "Pokemon appeals to children's desire for mastery," says Stephanie Pratola, a child psychologist. "That begins to develop at age six or seven. There are so many things to master--the games, knowing all the rules for the cards, what makes a good trade." It's a world of expertise in which kids can revel, free from parents who don't understand the rules. Pratola says the marketers have taken huge advantage of this developmental niche among children, but she spreads the blame around. "You have to look at it in the context of our culture. We are all obsessed with acquiring things, and we can't expect our children to rise above our culture." She adds, "Children will always grab onto fads, but parents are helping to feed this artificial economy." Parents often feel the only thing they can do is buy what their children crave. Says Pratola: " I remind them there are kids who don't have any Pokemon and are just fine."

Most psychologists see Pokemon as relatively harmless but warn of a need to be wary. A child who spends too much time on video games may not disengage from a simulated world and thus may be confused in the real one. And while card trading teaches social skills, it may also lead to obsessive behavior. "You don't know whether there's a valuable card in a pack when you buy it," says Maressa Hecht Orzack, founder of the Computer Addiction Service at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Children under eight aren't able to grasp this fact cognitively, which then leads to disappointment and an increased desire to buy more packs. Children overly anxious to please their peers are also at greater risk for addictive behavior. "Also make sure that your children are not being bullies while playing the card game," says Pratola. "Ask children about the trades they have made, and use this to teach them what it means to be fair and how to be a nice person."

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