Parents introduce kids to the original starter Pokémon on TikTok

They pass the torch on to their children

Brandon Stell, center, plays Pokémon surrounded by his children (RL) Venasera, Roslyn, Margery and Morgan.
Brandon Stell, center, plays Pokémon surrounded by his children (RL) Venasera, Roslyn, Margery and Morgan. (Stephen B. Morton/For the Washington Post)
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Mike Bridges films his 8-month-old son Finn crawling to stuffed plushies of the three original starter Pokémon – Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle.

First, as Finn scurries across the carpet — kicking his feet and slapping his hands — he’s inching toward a winking bulbasaur. Then he looks over at a smiling Squirtle. Finally, Finn reaches out to Charmander, the fiery baby dragon.

“Good choice boy!” One of the video’s 2.2 million viewers replied on TikTok.

“It’s not the one I would have picked,” Bridges later said in an interview with The Post. (He would have chosen Bulbasaur). “But we will love and support him no matter what.”

Parents often record life’s firsts. A baby’s first steps, a child’s first bike ride, a teenager’s first dance. But recently, some couples have started to appreciate something new: their child’s first Pokémon. It’s a recreation of a rite of passage from the franchise that requires players to choose one of three starter Pokémon before beginning their journey.

The 26-year-old Pokémon franchise is one of the highest-grossing media franchises in the world alongside Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse. And the kids who grew up catching Pokémon are now parents.

“We can talk at length about what his favorite Pokémon is,” Bridges said of Finn. “We’re one of the first generations where it’s very possible, and probably a bit more normal, for video games or media to be shared between adults and children.”

The Pokémon Company International, which is responsible for managing the Pokémon brand outside of Asia, fully recognizes that the fanbase for the franchise now spans generations, even from grandparents to grandchildren. Torrie Dorrell, the company’s vice president of marketing, said she loves watching parents “pass the baton” to their kids – adding that the company was “really just getting started,” like all of them want to serve target groups.

“We’re just continuing to diversify our offering,” Dorrell said, without giving details. “We obviously can’t share too much about our future and what we have in mind, but we definitely see it. It has not escaped us.”

A boy sold his Pokémon cards to pay his sick dog’s vet bill. Then the donations began.

Randy and Stephanie Timmerman recorded their daughter choosing her starter Pokémon and posted the video to TikTok in March — not to go viral, just to capture the moment. “Because it’s adorable,” Stephanie said.

For Randy, a pastor living on the east coast of Virginia, parents have always wanted to introduce their children to hobbies they are passionate about. For him, it’s Pokemon. For his father, it is the love of fishing.

“To this day, I still love fishing, especially when it comes to being side-by-side with my dad,” Randy said. “It doesn’t matter whether our daughter ends up becoming a Pokémon nerd like me or us. What matters is that this is the way we try to get in touch with her.”

When Pokémon first came to North America in the late ’90s, the franchise was a ubiquitous form of children’s entertainment—a television show, trading cards, and video game all rolled into one. Brandon Stell, a 32-year-old mechanic who lives in Hinesville, Georgia, remembers seeing the first movie in theaters, collecting the tickets with his friends, and going to Burger King to get all the plastic toy monsters.

For Stell, video games were an integral part of his life. It all started when his father found an original gray Game Boy with a version of the first Pokémon game one day while cleaning a car at work. Stell said his family didn’t have a lot of money growing up and his father was an alcoholic who was “in and out of the picture.” The game became an escape.

“My brother and I would just go into the bedroom, pull out the Game Boy, and just hide and play Pokémon together,” Stell said. “For me, it’s still a form of escapism.”

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Years later, in high school, Stell would ride his bike to his girlfriend Kimberly’s house just so the two of them could play Pokémon Sapphire, a sequel to the Game Boy Advance. And she often beat him with a “Level 100 Dodrio,” a three-headed ostrich that mastered a one-hit move called “Tri Attack.”

“This was high school, mind you, so we thought about other things,” Stell said. “But all we did when we got there was she pulled out her Game Boy and I pulled out my Game Boy.”

The two are now married and have five children. Stell recalls when they first discussed starting a family together. At some point, he thought, he would be able to introduce his children to the world of Pokémon. And he did. Once or twice a week, Stell plays the trading card game with his 9-year-old daughter, Venasera.

“As cheesy as it sounds, having kids was one of the things I really looked forward to,” Stell said. “Being able to share not just Pokémon, but all of my interests.”

Natasha Vadori-Canini, a mother of two who lives near Toronto, is rewatching the original animated series with her four-year-old son Jonathan. Vadori-Canini told the Post the show beats what’s on today, like Peppa the Pig or Caillou. When she was a kid, Vadori-Canini recalls running home from school to catch the latest episode. She didn’t have tapes or DVR at the time, so she either watched the episode live or missed it, she said.

The animated series caused a sensation among fans and critics when it was first released. In 1997, hundreds of children in Japan were hospitalized after reportedly experiencing seizures and other symptoms while watching a scene from the show. It is estimated that 55 percent of Tokyo’s elementary and middle school children watched the show that night.

But it wasn’t just a weird TV night. The franchise has a long history of inciting moral panics. Educators banned the card game from school grounds after a spate of robberies, fights and a stabbing over the cards were reported in Quebec. Allaying Catholic parents’ concerns, the Vatican said the first film in the Pokémon series, released in 1999, had “no harmful moral side effects” on children.

Almost two decades later, “Pokémon Go,” the mobile game that uses augmented reality to place monsters in real-world locations, became an international sensation. It’s been six years since the title was released, and Pokémon Go is still one of the most popular downloadable mobile games. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, fans were once again demanding trading cards; Players camped in lines outside of retail stores to purchase packs. Target eventually stopped selling the cards, citing safety concerns.

As a kid growing up outside of Seattle, Douglas Haines rarely played with Pokémon cards. He remembers his pastor bringing a small barbecue to Sunday school for the kids to burn their trading cards. The way the church saw it, “Pokemon evolved, and the evolution was bad,” Haines said. The trading cards fit into the same forbidden bucket as Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons. As a replacement for the Pokémon cards, the church offered biblical trading cards depicting scenes such as Daniel in the lion’s den, Haines said.

“I can’t imagine how many thousands of dollars in rare Charizard holograms were burned that day in the ’90s,” said Haines, 35. “I cry now when I think about it.”

Two decades later, Haines is a father of four and a film producer based in Las Vegas. His Six-year-old son Max wakes his father “almost every morning” to play with Pokémon cards on his bedroom floor. Haines said a booster pack of Pokémon cards and a trip to McDonald’s is “huge business” for Max, and it’s easy for him to take his son on a whim.

“As an adult, I really like Pokémon more because I can connect with him on that level,” Haines said. “Five dollars for a Pokémon booster pack is nothing.”

About Clayton Arredondo

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