The Dangers of VR for Kids

Is it just scare-mongering?

Key Takeaways

  • Parents and experts are concerned about the effects of virtual reality on children.
  • A UK government office plans to discuss the impact of VR on children with Meta.
  • One group offers safety tips for parents whose kids use VR, including following recommended age restrictions on software.
Group of children wearing virtual reality headsets

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Virtual reality may pose real dangers for kids. 

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office recently said it was planning "further discussions" with Meta about the Quest 2 VR headset's compliance with a new children's code that prioritizes young users' "best interests." Parents and doctors are also keeping a wary eye on the expanding popularity of virtual reality among kids. 

"With VR, there are potential dangers from the headset use itself, as well as from the content being viewed," Jonathan Maynard, a pediatrician at Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, CA, told Lifewire in an email interview. "There is still limited research about the long-term health effects of VR use on children; however, some potential risks are clear. Being essentially blindfolded and disoriented by the device can lead to physical harm from accidental falls or collisions while playing."

Watching Kids Watch VR

The Information Commissioners' Office told The Guardian that it would contact Meta about the device's compliance with the age-appropriate design code, which states that the "best interests of the child should be a primary consideration" for online services that minors can use. 

A Meta spokesperson told the newspaper the company would honor the regulations and was confident its VR hardware met the code's requirements.

But parenting writer and father of two children, Mo Mulla, told Lifewire in an email interview that he has concerns about VR safety for kids. 

"There needs to be a huge focus on understanding how our brains work with these devices and creating an intuitive system regularly updated for safety concerns," he said. "There needs to be a standard of accountability that will hold companies responsible for releasing content into the world to maintain the integrity of this emerging field."

While concerns about violence in games are nothing new, some parents are worried that the enhanced realism of VR could have adverse effects on children. Parent Allen Roach reportedly became concerned when his 11-year-old son was cutting off the limbs of his enemies in the VR game Blade & Sorcery.

Safety First

Amid the growing popularity of VR, some experts are calling for industry rules for kids and the technology.  

Maynard said companies should clearly define what age groups should be allowed to use their device. If children are among the intended users, tech companies should develop technology that can limit the interaction of minors. 

Boy wearing home made virtual reality headset

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"Having the ability to screen for and flag inappropriate content is also important," he added. "Incorporating parental controls into the software would allow parents to better control screen time and access to varying types of content."

The XR Safety Initiative is a nonprofit organization that promotes privacy, security, and ethics in immersive environments. The group offers safety tips for parents whose kids use VR, including following recommended age restrictions on software. 

VR is like other online media that exposes kids to unsafe situations earlier and more often than previous generations, Adam Dodge, founder of Endtab, an organization that works to end online abuse, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"We see this manifest in interactions with unsafe people, exposure to grownup content, and bullying," he added. "These issues will migrate to virtual reality, just as they migrated from the physical world to the online spaces of today. The fact that virtual reality environments are designed to simulate presence carries the risk that these harms will be felt more deeply by kids."

With VR, there are potential dangers from the headset use itself, as well as from the content being viewed.

Setting limits on VR use is tough because children may access VR outside the home, Dodge said. And when discussing safety, parents should be mindful that experiences in VR may look and feel differently to their kids. 

"Parents don't have to be tech experts to have these conversations—even though the digital divide can make it feel that way," he added. "For instance, when discussing interactions with new people, we recommend keeping it simple by focusing on the behavior, not the platform. If a new person says something that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable, the response should be the same whether the child is in VR, online or offline."

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