When faced with the age restrictions that manufacturers place on VR headsets, many parents wonder why the limits have been set. They wonder if there is a real danger to using VR or if the companies are setting things up in case something goes wrong in the future.
Age Requirements for VR Headsets
The age limits set in place by the VR headset manufacturers are as follows:
- HTC Vive – No age limit, but it recommends that young children don’t use it. Their user manual further adds that it should be kept away from young kids.
- Oculus Quest – 13+
- Samsung Gear VR – 13+
- Sony Playstation VR – 12+
With these age recommendations present in the manuals and product descriptions, parents are left wondering: is VR dangerous for children?
Is VR Bad for Kids?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. In other words, nobody really knows–not yet, at least.
The Virtual Reality industry is in its infancy and experts haven’t been able to see the long-term effects of using the headsets yet. Once a child hits puberty, their overall development slows down, so any potential risk for using VR will be minimized.
As such, there isn’t enough research data about the effects of VR play. There isn’t even a consensus among experts on whether immersing oneself in virtual reality is harmful or beneficial.
However, a little digging into this subject online will direct you to various papers and articles that argue for or against using a VR headset.
All in all, there are potential risks and advantages of children using VR headsets, which we recommend you should look into before deciding if you want to give a VR headset as a present to a child.
Is VR Dangerous for Children’s Eyes?
The biggest concern among experts and parents is the possibility that VR is bad for the eyes.
Experts who worry about VR for children point out that nearsightedness (myopia) comes from being too close to something when reading it or watching it, especially as a child. Even before the VR age, optometrists found an increase in myopia with the rise of personal computers and handheld devices. As VR screens are mere inches from the eyes, there is a reason for them to be concerned.
Other experts argue that it is the physical act of squinting that causes strain on the child’s eyes. Where they would have to adjust their eyes when reading a book or looking at an iPhone, VR technology isn’t the same. There is a depth of field and nothing seems “too close” to the eyes.
There is also the issue concerning the vergence-accommodation conflict, which is something that has been bugging the VR community for a while.
Basically, the vergence-accommodation conflict occurs when there’s a mismatch between the virtual object you’re focusing on and the screen. In the real world, we look and focus on an object at the same time. In virtual reality, however, this is far from being the case.
Because of the illusory depth, the VR headsets provide to give you a sense you’re in that “reality”, the vergence-accommodation conflict happens. With most VR headsets, you are physically looking directly into a screen so close to your eyeballs. However, the object you are focusing on in the virtual realm seems “farther” than the actual thing you are staring at, which is, of course, the physical flat screen.
Your eyes are looking at a fixed point, and yet you are focusing on another object in the virtual distance. Instead of looking and focusing at something like how you do in the real world, your eyes have to keep up with focusing on another object that appears to be far, while the one you’re actually looking at is right in front of you.
This disparity causes eye strain, headache, and even motion sickness. Taking your VR headset off might also make you confused about your surroundings for a while.
Entering a Virtual World
Another concern among experts and parents is the intense reality that VR offers. While there is somewhat of a disconnect when someone is playing violent games on a console or PC, VR places the gamer into the virtual world, making everything seem more real.
There is also the possibility that a character on a VR headset will have a greater influence on a child than someone they would watch on television. This could cause potential issues if they take harsher characters too seriously. Children couldn’t distinguish reality from fiction and fantasy easily, thus making them more susceptible to being influenced by media, especially VR.
Age Appropriate VR Games for Children
Due to possible psychological and emotional side effects in the long term, it is recommended to look into VR worlds for kids if you decide to let them try it out. They will still be able to see the effect of the VR without encountering anything that could potentially give them nightmares or anxiety.
Virtual reality apps like Horizon Worlds (created by Metaverse which is also known for making VR headsets, Oculus) are becoming popular. Unfortunately, some children made their way into the app and socialize with other users, some of which are adults. What’s more alarming they could potentially meet scrupulous adults, bullies, scammers, violent individuals, or worst, predators, in such a mixed environment where close monitoring is almost impossible.
On the other hand, there are virtual reality apps and games that are designed for children such as Rec Room. If you want to know more about VR worlds for kids, check out this list.
Positive Results From VR Usage
While there are a few things that give parents pause when deliberating whether or not to let their children use VR, there have been some positive studies done as well. As young people are interested in virtual technology, many have seen an increase in learning when a child uses VR in an educational setting.
There are several education VR programs or games that help with learning as the person is able to see an action as they hear the explanation. Since they are interested in VR overall, the information “sticks” better in the child’s mind.
There is also some evidence that VR can increase empathy in adults, though the effects on children have yet to be observed.
Kids may also make new friends and connect with their peers through virtual reality worlds. While safety concerns such as meeting strangers on the Internet are perfectly valid, parents can prevent this from happening. One is to maintain an open channel of communication. Since you can’t monitor everything they do or see during VR use, you can let your child know that they can be comfortable talking to you about anything. Communication goes a long way in helping your child safe and secure in navigating a virtual world and even in reality.
How To Let Your Young People Enjoy VR
Most people agree that if a parent does allow their child to use VR that there should be strict time limits on its usage, at least until we know more about the long-term effects it can have on children. Many have suggested having at least a 10-minute break for every hour of use with teenagers. You may want to limit a younger child’s usage even further.
Safety Tips for Using VR
As a parent, you can make your child feel and be safe while using VR technology by doing the following:
- Read safety manuals provided along with the VR headset. There are plenty of resources and tips in those little books, as well as more safety precautions.
- Clear the area where they can use their VR headsets. Put away potentially hazardous objects, toys, and chemicals from the area. Pick up LEGO toys as well. I’m sure you agree that stepping on a LEGO brick while walking around wearing a VR is a recipe for disaster.
- While you’re at it, try to put corner guards on tables if you can.
- Set time limits. Avoid letting children use VR for several hours.
- Make sure to have a reliable adult nearby to keep watch on the kids.
- If you can (and we highly recommend you to do so) monitor the content they are seeing. Sometimes they might stumble upon violent or inappropriate content while in virtual reality. Enable “screencasting” on your devices so you can also watch what the child sees.
- Not only should you watch out for mature content, but also for ads that can potentially influence them in a negative way. Unfortunately, like everything else today, virtual reality worlds are rife with ads, with some of them promoting inappropriate, illegal, or harmful products/services.
- Pay attention to whom they socialize with on the metaverse. While it’s a good way to meet new friends, the metaverse can also be a place with bullies, predators, scammers, and other unscrupulous individuals.
Educate your children to:
- Rest their eyes before using the VR headset, and then after. Avoid letting them play with their smartphones or tablets right after they use VR to prevent eyestrain.
- Use VR apps and games that are made for kids.
- Avoid sharing personal information online. This includes their real name, address, and a lot more. The old lessons from children’s stories still apply: “Don’t talk to strangers”.
- Let you know if they feel sick using the VR headset. Children aren’t always aware that they are experiencing negative side effects, so remind them to tell you if they feel “funny” using the device, i.e., motion sickness.
- Communicate their experience in the VR world to you. As I’ve said, open communication goes a long way.
- Limit their usage of the VR headset.
- Have a well-rounded and active life outside VR.
If you have concerns about your child using VR, you may want to speak to an optometrist. While opinions vary, there are some eye conditions that may be affected by the use of virtual reality. It is a good idea to get an expert’s thoughts.