Is virtual reality dangerous for children?

In the world of Care Bears, virtual reality promises great things for our children. Playing, of course, but also learning through play. Virtual reality enables interactive lessons, more realistic stories (for example, time travel to study history), exchanges with the whole world.

With much of the tech industry scrambling to promote this technology—Mark Zuckerberg even makes it core to Meta’s strategy—scientists worry about the dangers to our children.

They are rarely mentioned, but experiencing virtual reality as we know it today is not without consequences for our children’s physical development.

As with any screen, prolonged exposure can impair vision. Adults who have experienced VR also know that even a short session can cause dizziness, headaches and even temporary disorientation. So many things that we really don’t want to put our small children through. But it’s not the (often temporary) effects on the body that worry scientists most.

Fact or Fiction?

While it’s still too early to find concrete studies on the effects of VR on children, many scientists prefer to play the prevention card. Many of them believe that this is likely Children do not differentiate between the virtual world and the real world.

This allows their brains to react in VR just as they do in reality when confronted with a stressful situation. Better avoid violent or scary games. For example, a zombie attack in VR would have the same effect on your child as if that scene took place in the real world.

The American pharmacologist, who specializes in neuroscience, explains to AFP that the risk for children is high “that virtual reality is causing changes in their identity, their emotions, their psychology, while they are in the process of shaping their personality”.

A concern that (logically) is not shared by professionals in the sector. At the VivaTech show, Mainak Chaudhuri, project manager at Actronika startup, which specializes in human-machine touch, told AFP:

They (the children) are simply participating in an experiment. It’s not about taking part in firefighting or being involved on a battlefield. We don’t create suffering.

Parental Control

If questions about the psychological impact of VR are divided, other aspects of the technology are of concern. Cybersecurity expert Kavya Pearlman explains “The problem is that children are exposed to content that is none of their business”.

In fact, on virtual reality platforms developed by companies like Meta, kids can thrive in a world where almost anything is possible. The virtual world is just an open door to a variety of content, access to which is not yet controlled. It is not impossible for a child who is too young to have access to violent or pornographic content. Worse, kids can even become content creators without even realizing it.

And when Meta explains that he has already worked well on these topics, one only has to look at how easy it is today for a child to bypass the rules of Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram to understand that the company’s speeches not liable. inevitably with reality.

Especially since these virtual worlds currently have no moderation (that of conventional networks is already often questioned). This leaves malicious users free to indulge their worst instincts. Witness Nina Jane Patel, a British entrepreneur who suffered harassment in the metaverse. She says :

I entered the common area and almost immediately three or four male avatars approached me: I felt trapped. They started verbally harassing me, touching my avatar without my consent. Meanwhile, someone else took pictures.

The only defense against these behaviors therefore remains with the parents. Because if access to virtual reality content is prohibited for children under the age of 12 or 13, depending on the platform, this also applies to social networks. And yet… Fortunately, a recent study shows that young people are not interested in the metaverse. It is always taken.

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