Can Virtual Reality be dangerous for Kids?
When asking yourself if VR could be dangerous for kids, it’s important to consider that there are age restrictions in place for the majority of VR headsets. However, whether virtual reality is actually dangerous remains unclear – no definitive answer can yet be given. To put it simply, VR has not been around long enough for us to truly know its long-term effects. This being said, there are industry guidelines that should be followed.
The general rule is that no child under 7 years of age should use a VR headset – with the main manufacturers setting the following age restrictions:
- Oculus Rift: 13yrs +
- Samsung Gear VR: 13yrs +
- Sony PlayStation VR: 12yrs +
- HTC Vive: they do not specify any age restrictions, but do advise against young children using their product.
It is also worth noting, that even if your child is of the appropriate age to use a headset, doctors suggest a strict enforcement of a 10-minute break for every hour of VR immersion, with adult supervision advised at all times.
What are we worried about?
When it comes to children using virtual reality, the main reasons for concern seem to surround the possible damage this tech may cause to a child’s developing eyesight. Optometrists and scientists alike are worried that virtual reality might increase the risk of near-sightedness in children – something which has been steadily rising in recent years with the increase of computer screen exposure among children. Although this may be a worry, many big players in the VR world are putting in the time and research to ensure it is safe, fun and beneficial to children.
“Many big players in the VR world are putting in the time and research to ensure it is safe, fun and beneficial to children.”
Google have designed VR experiences for their Cardboard headset specifically with children in mind. This piece of hardware is perhaps the most kid-friendly headset out there. As well as the obvious ease of access, a cheap cardboard headset is also very simple to use. Google expeditions is a VR experience that has been road tested in schools. Kids can learn about history, science and many more topics, all whist enjoying the wonderful world of VR – a testament to the benefits of VR for children. Being the sensible mega company that they are, Google do, however, advise that children should not be exposed to a VR experience for any prolonged period of time.
“Let’s build more confidence in the health and safety side of it.”
As well as Google, Oculus Rift see VR as beneficial to children but remain wary of this tech due to its infancy. CEO, Brendan Iribe discussed the issues surrounding VR and child safety before, stating that, “Let’s build more confidence in the health and safety side of it. And eventually, one day, we definitely want to have Oculus for kids, especially for educational use.”
The Jury is Out – A lack of research
With any new tech there are always going to be a few teething problems. Guidelines are established for a reason, that reason being to protect and keep users safe. As time goes on, these guidelines are likely to change. Smartphones were once a new tech, obviously, they have become so commonplace and are no longer considered a ‘new’ technology, people are less wary and guidelines are a lot less severe. Flash forward 10 years and we could be just as relaxed about VR technology.
There are even those who argue that the optic technology that goes in to a VR headset is not as bad for a child as that of a smartphone. In fact, there are some leading the pro VR cry in the world of vision too. One branch of thinking suggests that virtual reality can actually benefit optometrists and their patients. This tech may help diagnose problems early on, as some VR experiences are very similar to the tools used to treat those with faulty eyesight.
Whatever the current stance on VR and its suitability for children may be, one thing everyone can agree upon is the evident lack of research. At this moment in VR time, there is no irrefutable proof that VR is any more damaging to a child than it is an adult. However, to assume this is true would be to take a foolhardy stance. Until we get the full picture on VR, being aware of any risks is key and safety guidelines should be followed.
VR and Ratings
Ethical guidelines are also a hot topic of conversation in the Virtual world. VR, like many techs gone before, could expose a child to unsuitable or inappropriate content. There is genuine concern surrounding the censorship of VR experiences is likely to remain a divisive subject. But, as with many mediums, parental controls can be applied. YouTube, the go to place for 360 video content, sets age restrictions on its videos and the majority of VR apps offer an age rating. Utilise these tools and your child should be safer when using virtual reality.
Apart from the general ‘newness’ of this tech and the lack of studies, for obvious ethical reasons, it is hard to research anything involving children. So, it remains the fact that we have little to go on for now, other than a few differing opinions from a sprinkling of experts. Perhaps, only time will tell the true effects of VR on both adults and children, but for now, it seems highly unfair to impose a blanket ban on VR for kids. If you follow the manufacturers guidelines and use common sense, then there’s no reason why your child too can’t enjoy the wonderful world of virtual reality.