Is VR Bad for Kids?


As technology becomes more ingrained in different aspects of our lives, it can be difficult to determine which devices are harmful for your kiddos — especially a fast-growing one like virtual reality (VR).


Simulated experiences have become more popular among children and teens. Plus, conglomerates like Facebook/Meta are putting VR at the forefront of their business model. With those facts in mind, we can expect to see more of it in the near future.


Since this technology has emerged, it has raised concerns for parents about whether their little ones should explore augmented realities. Additionally, with there being explicit content on various VR apps, many are asking themselves, “Is VR bad for kids?” or “Is VR safe for kids?”


To help you make the best decision, we’re sharing a guide so you can learn more about VR effects on children.


What is VR?


It’s one thing if your kiddos want to immerse themselves in their favorite show on your smartphone, but entering an alternate reality is a harder concept to grasp. This is because it challenges what they already know about the world by blurring the boundaries that have been set.


Most VR experiences require a headset, which allows the user to look around at a 360-degree angle, hear simulated sounds and move their body to interact with other objects and people in the augmented environment. Similar to smartphones, these technologies come with their own App stores where games can be purchased and downloaded.


With devices like Oculus and Merge VR being available in the market, many of them haven’t completed any studies with children (due to unethical and regulatory reasons). Knowing this, it’s difficult to get a direct answer to the question, “Is VR bad for kids?” So, instead you need to educate yourself on the effects of the technology and correlate that with early childhood development. As a result, you will understand VR effects on children.


VR Effects on Children


Is VR safe for kids? Well, let’s look at the facts. One of the biggest concerns for parents is the impact VR headsets can have on vision. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, staring continuously at a VR headset screen (or any digital device) without breaks may cause eye strain or eye fatigue. The main reason for this is because when these headsets are used, it causes the user to blink significantly less than they normally do. When that happens, the front surface of the eyes dry out leading to fatigue.


Another thing to consider is when the brain views pictures in motion, the same signals are sent to it when physical motion is viewed as well. For example, if your little one easily gets motion sickness from an activity that involves rapid movement, they can expect to have the same reaction in the virtual world. In other words, virtual motion sickness can occur which causes dizziness. Children are also usually too young to communicate how uncomfortable it may be for them to use the headsets or adjust the devices themselves. All of these instances can have a negative outcome on your kiddos’ natural brain development, and parents should evaluate them when asking themselves, “Is VR bad for kids?”


VR Benefits for Kids


Over the past few years, the world has seen changes to the social landscape and how we choose to interact with others. A way many of us have navigated that is by communicating virtually — including children. Kids have adjusted to taking their classes at home and speaking to family and friends through the use of technology. Virtual reality has also been a way for children to interact and learn without risking their health in the real world.


For example, some parents have seen VR headsets as smart classrooms as home. In fact, according to The Lost Gamer, it’s a known fact that audiovisuals offer a much more immersive experience and a steeper learning curve if done properly. This helps them interact with the outside world at home. As a result, parents feel more comfortable about their safety while doing so. It can also allow your little ones to enjoy their childhood without risking their well-being. Even with this convenience, I’m sure you’re still wondering, “Is VR bad for kids?” Although there are some positive aspects to these simulations, there are also negative ones to keep in mind as well.


Disadvantages of VR for Kids


Aside from the long-term VR effects on children and advantages, many parents have discovered that their tots are playing content they shouldn’t be engaging with. With your kiddos having access to a new simulated environment, that means they will also be exposed to the inappropriate conversations and behavior that takes place — which is one of the reasons parents ask, “Is VR bad for kids?”


For example, there was a report released in March that revealed how dangerous virtual reality could be for children. In the report titled “Kids and the Metaverse,” a number of hazards were named including sexually explicit content, abusive language and behavior, privacy and data collection on users (such as eye movement and facial recognition) along with potential psychological risks like addiction, increased aggression and dissociation from reality.


The report also mentions that although many VR devices come with age restrictions, it’s not uncommon for children to use a headset set up by an adult and venture into simulated social settings they don’t belong in. NBC’s Kate Snow explained that during her experience in the virtual world she had encounters with multiple avatars that weren’t of-age. Additionally, some were actively participating in simulated explicit acts that were “scary as a parent” to see.


Although parents play a critical role in VR usage, the control they have of what their kiddos can potentially be exposed to has a limit — posing the question, “Is VR safe for kids?”. It also doesn’t mean the people that make up the industry will always be concerned about young users at risk of engaging in those explicit simulations. However, some have taken the right steps toward giving parents the ability to monitor their little ones’ screen time and restrict certain VR activities from them.


Parental Controls


As parents ponder the answer to the question, “Is VR safe for kids?” they should also be aware of the recent parental control developments some devices have implemented. This clearly sends a message to families letting them know that VR companies are listening to their concerns and want to help regulate the use of each kiddos’ augmented reality experience.


For instance, Meta announced in June they’re adding parental controls to Quest VR headsets, which will allow parents to check underage users’ screen time and be notified of approval requests for purchases. This provides parents the ability to be gatekeepers without depending on age restrictions. Some features include adults being able to view the apps their child owns as well as their Oculus Friends list. With companies like Meta seeing a future in virtual and augmented reality, they realize safety poses an issue and it’s important to set boundaries so everyone can enjoy this technology in a secure way. Knowing this, parents can have some peace of mind if they choose to allow their child to use VR devices. They can also likely expect other VR companies to follow suit with other restrictions.


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