As virtual reality (VR) technology becomes more prevalent in the gaming and entertainment industries, parents are left wondering about its potential impact on their children’s health and development.
Companies like Oculus Rift, Samsung and Sony have offered age recommendations for their VR gear; not sooner than 13 years old for Oculus Rift and Samsung,12 years old for Sony.
But let’s examine the expert opinions and research findings on the safety of VR for kids, as well as its potential benefits and risks. We will also provide best practices for parents and educators to ensure safe and responsible use of VR technology.
1/ What is VR and How Does it Work?
VR is a technology that creates a simulated environment, often using a headset or other specialized equipment. This technology allows the user to immerse themselves in a digital world that feels as real as the physical world.
VR works by tracking the user’s movements and adjusting the digital environment accordingly, creating a highly interactive and immersive experience.
2/ Expert Opinions and Research Findings
According to The Common Sense Census: 17% of children age 8 to 18 report having a VR headset, and about one in five tweens (22%) and one in four teens (27%) have ever tried virtual reality.
In a survey completed by 3,613 parents, only 22 percent reported their child used VR for learning. An overwhelming 76 percent of children who have used VR played games.
Before delving into the potential benefits and risks of VR for kids, it’s important to understand what experts have to say about the technology.
A/ Studies on the Impact of VR on Kids’ Health and Development
Several studies have been conducted to examine the impact of VR on children’s health and development.
A research by Jeremy Bailenson and Jakki Bailey at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab revealed that “little is known about the effects of IVR [immersive virtual reality] as a technology on child development.”
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, one study found that there is no evidence that long exposure to screens can cause permanent damage.
The outcomes of a research involving 50 kids who used VR were recently reported in the American Journal of Ophthalmology:
“ Young children tolerate fully immersive 3D virtual reality game play without noteworthy effects on visuomotor functions. VR play did not induce significant post-VR postural instability or maladaptation of the vestibulo-ocular reflex. The prevalence of discomfort and aftereffects may be less than that reported for adults.”
B/ Insights from Child Development and Technology Experts
Child development and technology experts generally agree that VR can be a useful tool for learning and education, but that it should be used in moderation and with supervision.
In another study, here’s what scientists had to say:
“ Results show that immersive VR can disrupt the children’s default coordination strategy, reweighting the various sensory inputs — vision, proprioception and vestibular inputs — in favor of vision “
Additionally, VR exposure could lead to eye strain, headaches, and fatigue in children, but these effects were generally mild and temporary.
Scientists also caution consensually that VR should not replace real-world experiences and interactions, which are critical for children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.
3/ Potential Benefits of VR for Kids
While there are concerns about the safety of VR for kids, there are also many potential benefits to consider.
A/ Enhancing Learning and Education
VR can provide a highly immersive and interactive learning experience, allowing children to explore and learn in ways that are not possible with traditional methods.
For example, VR can transport children to historical sites, museums, and other places around the world, giving them a firsthand experience of different cultures and environments.
B/ Improving Motor Skills and Coordination
VR can also be used to improve children’s motor skills and coordination.
For example, VR games and simulations can help children develop:
- hand-eye coordination
- spatial awareness.
C/ Fostering Creativity and Imagination
VR can also be a powerful tool for fostering creativity and imagination in children. VR environments can be customized and manipulated in ways that are not possible in the physical world, allowing children to create and explore new ideas and concepts.
4/ Potential Risks of VR for Kids
Despite the potential benefits of VR, there are also some risks to consider.
A/ Physical Risks
VR can pose physical risks for kids, especially if they are not using it properly or if the equipment is not set up correctly. It can cause accidents if kids are not aware of their surroundings and bump into objects or people.
B/ Eye Strain and Vision Problems
One of the most common concerns about VR is the potential for eye strain and vision problems.
Some children may experience headaches, nausea, or other symptoms after using VR for an extended period of time. It’s important to take regular breaks and limit VR use to avoid these issues.
C/ Motion Sickness and Nausea
Another potential risk of VR is motion sickness and nausea. Some children may experience these symptoms when using VR, particularly if the virtual environment is highly immersive and realistic.
D/ Sexual content and abuse
Young users frequently encounter sexual grooming, simulated sex activities, virtual strip clubs, and rape threats in the metaverse. In VR, abuse has the potential to be more painful than in other online mediums since it is meant to immerse the complete body.
5/ Best Practices for Kids Using VR
A/ Age Recommendations and Supervision Guidelines
One of the most important considerations when introducing kids to VR is age appropriateness. While many VR systems are marketed to children as young as 6 or 7, some experts recommend waiting until children are at least 12 years old, when their brains are more fully developed and better able to handle the sensory overload of VR.
Additionally, it’s important to supervise children closely when they are using VR, particularly younger children who may be more prone to accidents or disorientation.
B/ Setting Up Safe and Comfortable VR Environments
Another key factor in ensuring kids’ safety and comfort while using VR is the environment in which they are using it. This includes not only the physical space, but also the virtual environment created by the VR system.
Parents should choose a safe and spacious area for VR use, with plenty of room for children to move around and avoid obstacles.
Additionally, it’s important to ensure that the VR system is properly calibrated and adjusted to fit the child’s head and body, to prevent discomfort or injury.
C/ Balancing VR Use with Other Activities and Screen Time
While VR can be a fun and engaging activity for kids, it’s important to ensure that they are not spending too much time using it at the expense of other important activities, such as exercise, socializing, and outdoor play.
Some experts recommend limiting VR use to 30 minutes to an hour per day, and ensuring that children have regular breaks to rest their eyes and brains.
Additionally, it’s important to balance VR use with other forms of screen time, such as TV, video games, and computer use, to prevent overstimulation and promote healthy development.
After examining the potential benefits and risks of VR technology for kids, it is clear that VR can offer numerous advantages, such as enhancing learning, promoting creativity and imagination, and providing exposure to real-life situations.
However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks of VR, including physical and emotional risks, and to take proper safety measures to ensure the safety of children when using VR.
Overall, when used responsibly and with proper precautions, VR can be a safe and beneficial tool for kids.
A/ Summary of Key Points and Takeaways
In summary, VR technology can provide a unique and engaging learning experience for kids, promoting creativity, imagination, and real-life exposure. However, it is important for parents and educators to be aware of the potential risks, such as physical discomfort and emotional and psychological impact, and to take proper safety measures to mitigate these risks. Proper supervision, time limits, age-appropriate content, and proper equipment and setting are all essential for ensuring the safety of children in VR.
B/ Considerations for Parents and Educators
Parents and educators should carefully consider the use of VR technology for children, taking into account the potential benefits and risks. It is important to:
- Assess the child’s maturity and readiness for using VR,
- Provide proper supervision and guidance when using VR
- Consider age-appropriate content and time limits
- Be aware as parents and educators of the potential physical and emotional risks associated with VR use.
Ultimately, responsible and informed use of VR technology can provide a safe and beneficial learning experience for kids.
- What is VR technology?
VR technology is a computer-generated environment that simulates a realistic experience, usually experienced through a headset.
- What are the benefits of VR for kids?
The benefits of VR for kids include an enhanced learning experience, exposure to real-life situations, and improved creativity and imagination.
- What are the risks of VR for kids?
The risks of VR for kids include physical risks such as dizziness and nausea, and emotional and psychological risks such as anxiety and addiction.
- How can parents and educators ensure the safety of kids in VR?
Parents and educators can ensure the safety of kids in VR by taking proper safety measures, including supervision, time limits, proper equipment and setting, and age-appropriate content.
- Is VR technology suitable for all ages?
VR technology is not suitable for very young children, and age restrictions should be taken into account when deciding if it is appropriate for a child.
3. Common Sense Media, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/kids-action/articles/what-are-kids-doing-in-the-metaverse#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20new%20report%2C%20The%20Common%20Sense,four%20teens%20%2827%25%29%20have%20ever%20tried%20virtual%20reality.
6. Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-virtual-reality-headsets-safe-for-children/
7. Science daily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210927092144.htm