Is VR Safe for Kids: A Parent's GuideDec 05, 2023
When we were kids, virtual reality (VR) used to be the stuff of science fiction and stories. Now, virtual reality has become part of our reality, and it’s our job as parents to help our children navigate this futuristic technology, today.
In this article, I’ll cover the most common safety concerns for children using VR. I’ll also detail what the VR age limits are, how long your little ones can safely use the headsets for, and the parental controls that you have at your disposal.
Virtual Reality (VR) age limit
Generally speaking, VR headsets aren’t suitable for children under the age of about 12-13. This is for several reasons, including physical, emotional, and developmental. Amongst other concerns, VR devices have the potential to cause eye and neck strain as well as motion sickness in users.
There is also limited research into the long-term effects of VR use for young children, which is another contributing factor to age restrictions.
Age limits can differ depending on the device, so it’s worth checking the packaging and the manufacturer’s information before allowing your child to use a VR product.
VR safety concerns
While virtual reality can offer exciting, immersive, and educational experiences for children, there are some safety considerations to keep in mind. Here are some of the most common causes for concern.
As with any type of digital device, it’s important to ensure the content your kids can access is age appropriate. VR apps and experiences come with age ratings, typically included in the product description in the app store, but these are not always easy to find.
Even if the VR experience has been designed specifically for your child’s age range, there may still be themes that you don’t consider appropriate as a family.
It’s also important to be aware of how realistic and immersive the experience is compared to other gameplay they’re used to. Speak to your children about how VR may make them feel—both physically and emotionally.
Read my guide about harmful online content and the steps legislators are taking to reduce its prevalence.
VR headsets and devices typically require an internet connection. Many of the experiences also encourage collaborative play and connecting with other users. While being able to join in with friends on a VR experience may support your child’s social development, it’s crucial to establish boundaries and restrictions on who they can and can’t interact with.
You should remind your children of the dangers of interacting with strangers online and that this includes games and VR experiences. As well as this, encourage an open discourse with your kids so they feel able to speak to you if they come across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
There may be chat features, the ability to create bios or personas, and sharing features (e.g., of photos and other media). Familiarize yourself with how this works, so that you can help your children navigate these features safely. Also, take the time to remind your kids about the importance of not sharing their personal information online—such as their address, school, birthdays and so on.
VR is not always static, meaning that users are able to move around as part of the immersive experience. Children may be more prone to tripping or hurting themselves while wearing a VR headset, especially if they aren’t accustomed to the virtual environment. Ensure they’re using VR in a clear, safe space and that you can supervise them.
Risk of straining
Prolonged screentime, on any device, can cause eyestrain for children. However, VR can put kids at particular risk of eyestrain due to the constant proximity of the screen. VR may be able to simulate an environment, but there’s no different points of focus for the eye—it’s all on that one screen.
Set time limits on how long your child can play for and ensure their eyes are getting a proper break from the screen.
Don’t forget that, even though VR may allow your child to be more physically active than with other devices, it still contributes to their overall screentime use. Check out my guide to recommended screentime by age for more information on what a healthy amount of screen time is for your child.
As VR headsets are not designed for kids, they have the potential to cause issues such as neck strain (especially for younger children). This should be another factor in deciding how long, and how often, you let your child use VR for.
Some users can experience motion sickness while using VR. Children may be particularly susceptible to this. Start them off with shorter sessions to allow them to adjust to the simulated environment and how it makes them feel.
Does VR have parental controls?
Parental controls are available with some VR devices. There may also be settings available within specific apps or experiences. The restrictions that are offered will likely vary with each device so it’s important to familiarize yourself with what yours offers.
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