You’ve probably heard the buzz around Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and your child may have even put VR gear on this year’s wish list. But what’s the buzz all about and what exactly do parents need to know about these mind-bending technologies?
VR and AR technology sound a bit sci-fi and intimidating, right? They can be until you begin to understand the amazing ways these technologies are being applied to entertainment as well as other areas like education and healthcare. But, like any new technology, where there’s incredible opportunity there are also safety issues parents don’t want to ignore.
According to a report from Common Sense Media, 60 percent of parents are worried about VR’s health effects on children, while others say the technology will have significant educational benefits.
Adults and kids alike are using VR technology — headsets, software, and games — to experience the thrill of being in an immersive environment.
According to Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) 20th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study, there are now 7 million VR headsets in U.S. households, which equates to about six percent of homes. CTA estimates that 3.9 million VR/AR headsets shipped in 2017 and 4.9 million headsets will ship in 2018.
With VR technology, a user wears a VR Head Mounted Display (HMD) headset and interacts with 3D computer-generated environments on either a PC or smart phone that allows them to feel — or experience the illusion — that he or she is actually in that place. The VR headset has eye displays (OLED) for each eye that show an environment at different angles to give the perception of depth. VR environments are diverse. One might include going inside the human body to learn about the digestive system, another environment might be a battlefield, while another might be a serene ocean view. The list of games, apps, experiences, and movies goes on and on.
AR differs from VR in that it overlays digital information onto physical surroundings and does not require a headset. AR is transparent and allows you to see and interact with your environment. It adds digital images and data to enhance views of the real world. AR is used in apps like Pokémon Go and GPS and walking apps that allow you to see your environment in real time. Not as immersive as VR, AR can still enrich a physical reality and is finding its way into a number of industries. VR and AR technologies are used in education for e learning and in the military for combat, medic, and flight simulation training. The list of AR applications continues to grow.
To support these growing technologies, there are thousands of games, videos, live music and events available. Museums and arcades exist and theme parks are adapting thrill rides to meet the demand for VR experiences. Increasingly retailers are hopping on board to use VR to engage customers, which will be a hot topic at the upcoming 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Still, there are questions from parents such as what effect will these immersive technologies have on children’s brains and if VR environments blur the line between reality and fantasy enough to change a child’s behavior. The answer: At this point, not a lot is known about VR’s affect on children but medical opinions are emerging warning of potential health impacts. So, calling a family huddle on the topic is a good idea you have these technologies in your home or plan to in the near future.
VR/AR talking points for families
Apply safety features. VR apps and games include safety features such as restricted chat and privacy settings that allow users to filter out crude language and report abusive behavior. While some VR environments have moderators in place, some do not. This is also a great time to discuss password safety and privacy with your kids.
Age ratings and reviews. Some VR apps or games contain violence so pay attention to age restrictions. Also, be sure to read the reviews of the game to determine the safety, quality, and value of the VR/AR content.
Inappropriate content. While fun, harmless games and apps exist, so too does sexual content that kids can and do seek out. Be aware of how your child is using his or her VR headset and what content they are engaged with. Always monitor your child’s tech choices.
Isolation. A big concern with VR’s immersive structure is that players can and do become isolated in a VR world and, like with any fun technology, casual can turn addictive. Time limits on VR games and monitoring are recommended.
Physical safety/health. Because games are immersive, VR players can fall or hurt themselves or others while playing. To be safe, sit down while playing, don’t play in a crowded space, and remove pets from the playing area.
In addition to physical safety, doctors have expressed VR-related health concerns. Some warn about brain and eye development in kids related to VR technology. Because of the brain-eye connection of VR, players are warned about dizziness, nausea, and anxiety related to prolonged play in a VR environment.
Doctors recommend adult supervision at all times and keeping VR sessions short to give the eyes, brain, and emotions a rest. The younger the child, the shorter the exposure should be.
Be a good VR citizen. Being a good digital citizen extends to the VR world. When playing multi-player VR games, be respectful, kind, and remember there are real hearts behind those avatars. Also, be mindful of the image your own avatar is communicating. Be aware of bullies and bullying behavior in a virtual world where the lines between reality and fantasy can get blurred.
Get in the game. If you allow your kids to play VR games, get immersed in the game with them. Understand the environments, the community, the feeling of the game, and the safety risks first hand. A good rule: If you don’t want your child to experience something in the real world — violence, cursing, fear, anxiety — don’t let them experience it in a virtual world.
To get an insider’s view of what a VR environment is like and to learn more about potential security risks, check out McAfee’s podcast Hackable?, episode #18, Virtually Vulnerable.