The Realities of Virtual Reality | What Parents Should Know

As virtual reality games and devices slowly start making their way onto South African shores, more and more parents are wondering what role this new technology should play in their children’s lives.

If you haven’t had the chance to try it, virtual reality describes a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment, which can be explored and interacted with. For example, with the help of a virtual reality headset, you could find yourself jumping off cliffs, fighting in WW2 or even exploring the inner workings of the human body. The technology is mind-blowing to say the least. But, with the rise in this new technology, should parents be worried about its effect on their children? How do VR’s powerful effects affect a developing brain?

jeshoots-com-655112-unsplashTo answer these questions, we’ve looked to Common Sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

While the long-term effects of VR use on children are still unknown, the report suggests that virtual reality is likely to have a powerful impact on children because it can provoke a response to a virtual experience, similar to that of an actual experience. Because VR simulates the real world, children, especially those who are still too young to understand the plausibility of events on screen, may face challenges discerning which components of virtual events are not real. Children may not be able to understand why the consequences of certain actions have different outcomes in the real world vs virtual reality.

On the other hand, the report suggests that the psychological presence of VR could also be used to produce beneficial outcomes for children. For example, VR could be used in clinical applications, including pain distraction and rehabilitation, as well as educational applications. Imagine learning about the ocean, Mars or the human brain through VR; It sounds pretty amazing if you ask us!

While the educational and clinical benefits of VR are convincing, the concerns surrounding VR remain inevitable. These concerns include the following:

  • Sensory and vision effects, i.e. its potential to cause stimulator sickness and visual strain
  • Stimulating aggressive behaviour, i.e. its potential to stimulate more aggressive reactions to violent games that would otherwise be played on a two-dimensional screen
  • Escapism and distraction, i.e. its potential to be so enticing that children choose to embrace the virtual reality instead of the real world.

With these concerns in mind, many VR manufacturers, including Sony, Google and Facebook, have made it very clear that the effects of VR on children and the risks are largely unknown, and most recommend age restrictions. In most cases, companies suggest that no children under the age of 12 should make use of VR devices, with the exception of VR devices created specifically for use by children.

At ParentsCorner we are excited by the possibilities of virtual reality, especially in the education sector. We suggest that parents stick to the recommended age guidelines given by VR manufacturers. We also suggest that children using VR devices should only stay “inside” the VR world for no longer than 5 minutes at a time.

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