Parents, beware: The invasion of small, harmless Japanese animated creatures that have flooded the toy stores and minds of young children across America have the dangerous potential of emptying your wallets. But limits are in order, say consumer and child advocates.
The game of Pokemon should not become a child's sole fascination, although toy and marketing experts said that is quickly becoming the case among 7- to 14-year-old boys and girls.
Ron Goodstein, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, called Pokemon a "harmless diversion." Parents, however, do need to exert their authority and "make this a treat, rather than something they can do all the time."
Parents also need to help their kids make wise choices in an era when fads climax and fade within a year's time, said Karen McNulty, editor of Zillions, a consumer magazine for children.
"They need to help their children put this all in perspective, to tell them they don't have to collect things the marketers are trying to get them to collect," she said. "With Pokemon, the kids feel like they need to be a part of the trend."
And the trend can be misleading, she added. "A lot of kids think that if they collect all these items that they're going to be valuable, but just because a book says that something is worth $600 doesn't mean that anyone will actually pay that much for it."
"It's a marketing dream come true," said Stevanne Auerbach, known as "Dr. Toy" to her clients. "The theme of the game, where the children have to 'catch 'em all,' has them buying and asking for everything."
And children long for a piece of the pop-culture phenom, she added. "It's caught on because kids want to be a part of their peer group and they want to belong. So you're popular if you have the hottest card or the most valuable card. It teaches children about collecting, negotiating and trading at a very young age."
While the hand-held Nintendo Game Boy video game continues to sell and the television cartoon continues to get unprecendented ratings, it is the card game that is garnering the most attention--and demand--these days.
Set up as a "battle," the card game challenges its players--children--as "trainers" to battle one Another with the help of the little monsters, which possess superhuman (or supermonster) powers.
Unlike with many other fads, though, parents don't appear to be publicly voicing many objections to Pokemon, said independent toy consultant Julie Creighton. To those who are worried, she said: "Tell them to relax. . . . There's nothing inherently bad about it."
"Have a look at it from your child's world," she recommended. "Talk to them about what excites them" about the fad.
Creighton believes collecting the toys is okay as well, especially since most of the kids collecting Pokemon items are opening them up and playing with them. Collectibles that can't come out of the box have "no place in a child's world," Creighton said.
Parents should also be sure that Pokemon is not the only thing their child dreams, breathes and lives, Auerbach said.
"Children need to have more balance in their lives," she said. "Parents should encourage their children to color and play with puzzles so the child doesn't lose sight of all the wonderful, creative things to do. It would be a shame if their whole childhood was made up of these little, tiny creatures."