Welcome back to part 2 of my Metaverse series. If you are after tips and strategies to help your kids navigate the Metaverse safely then you’re in the right place. In this post I’ll share with you how your kids are likely already accessing the Metaverse, the benefits plus how to ensure they have a safe and positive experience. Now, if you’d like a refresher on exactly what the Metaverse is before we get underway, then check out part one here.
How Many Kids Are Using The Metaverse?
If your kids have played Roblox, Fortnite or Minecraft then they have already taken the step into this new virtual frontier. Yes, it’s that easy! But how many kids are playing on these platforms?
- Last year, Roblox reported that its online community grew from 30 to 50 million daily users across 180 countries with just under half of the community reportedly under the age of 13.
- Fortnite has more than 350 million registered players and as of August 2022, has between 2.5 and 4 million people playing at any one time. Around ¼ of the players are under 18, with the bulk of players (62%) between 18 and 24 years old.
- 53% of Aussie kids aged 6 to 8 and 68% of 9 to 12 year olds are actively playing Minecraft once a week, according to Australian research.
So, if you’ve got a couple of kids, tweens or teens in your house, then chances are they have probably already had a Metaverse experience! Or, if not yet, then it won’t be long…
Is There Any Difference Between Video Games And The Metaverse?
There are actually a lot of similarities between online video games and the Metaverse including the use of avatars and the availability of items to purchase eg a horse in a game or an NFT (non-fungible token) in the Metaverse. However, the biggest difference is that the Metaverse is not just about gaming – it is so much more. In the Metaverse, there are no limitations to the number of participants nor on the type of activity – you can attend meetings, concerts, socialise without the gaming aspect, even undertake study!
What Are The Benefits Of The Metaverse For Our Kids?
There are so many good things about the Metaverse for our kids, particularly from an educational perspective. As a mum of 4, I am really excited at the possibilities the Metaverse will offer our kids. Imagine being able to experience a country in virtual reality – walk around, see the sights, its geographical features. I have no doubt that would enthuse even the most reluctant learners. And a recent US study confirmed this. It found that taking students on a Virtual Reality field trip to Greenland to learn about climate change resulted in higher interest, enjoyment and retention than students who simply watched a traditional 2-D video. How good!
Taking care of my family’s mental health has always been a huge focus of my parenting approach and I am really excited at the great options the Metaverse can offer in the area. As a family, we’ve spent multiple hours using apps like Calm and Headspace to help us meditate and practice mindfulness. But the thought of being able to don a VR headset and be transported to the actual rainforest or the roaring fire that I often listen to, is even more appealing! One of the best parts of the VR experience is that it completely blocks out the ‘real world’ which would make it easier to stay in the flow. Very appealing!
And while we’re talking benefits, let’s not gloss over the potential role the Metaverse can play in fostering empathy and promoting understanding between communities. There is a growing group of digital creators who are designing Metaverse experiences to do this using Virtual Reality. Homeless Realities is a project from the University of Southern California (USC) where students use virtual reality to tell stories, usually of marginalized communities that have been overlooked by traditional journalism. So powerful!
How Do We Keep Our Kids Safe?
As parents, it’s essential that we add the Metaverse to our list of things to get our head around so we can keep our kids safe. Here are my top tips:
1. Commit To Understanding How It All Works
While I very much appreciate you reading this post, it’s important that you take action and get involved – particularly if your kids are already. If your kids are using Minecraft, Fortnite or Roblox – sign up and understand yourself how it all works. If your kids have a VR headset and you’re not sure how it works – ask them for a turn and a lesson. Only by experiencing it for yourself, will you truly understand the attraction but also the pitfalls and risks.
2. Direct Your Kids To Age Appropriate Platforms
As the Metaverse is still evolving and very much a work in progress, there are very minimal protections in place for users. However, the 3 platforms that tend to attract younger players (Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite) all have parental control features. So, please direct them here – if you can – as you’ll be able to have more control over their online safety.
Minecraft and Fortnite allow parents to disable chat functions which means your kids can’t communicate with people they don’t know. Roblox will automatically apply certain safety settings depending on the age group of their account. But regardless of what their platform of choice is, always protect your credit card details!! I know Fortnite will only allow kids to make ‘in game’ purchases if these supply credit card details in the checkout.
3. Make Online Safety Part Of Your Family’s Dialogue
If your kids are older, it’s likely, you’ll have far less say over where they spend their time in the Metaverse so that’s when your kids will need to rely on their cyber safety skills to help them make safe decisions. Now, don’t assume that your child’s school has ticked the cyber safety box and it’s all been taken care of. Cybersafety needs to be weaved into your family’s dialogue and spoken about regularly. Even from the age of 5, your kids should know that they shouldn’t talk to strangers online or offline, if they see something that makes them upset online then they need to talk to a parent asap and, that they should never share their name or anything that could identify them online.
The goal of this is to make safe online behaviour part of their routine so that when they are faced with a challenging situation anywhere online, they automatically know how to respond. And of course, as kids get older, the advice becomes appropriate to their age.
4. Don’t Forget About Physical Safety Too
Most kids are busting to get access to a VR headset but please take some time to do your research to work out which headsets are more suitable for your kids and your lounge room! There are 2 basic types: some that require a ‘tethered’ connection to a PC or standalone models with built-in computing power. The tethered headsets have traditionally delivered a more immersive user experience due to the extra computational power the PC provides however experts predict it won’t be long before standalone headsets are just as good. The biggest selling VR headset, Occulus Quest 2, can in fact connect wirelessly to your PC with the option to connect via a cable in case the game or experience needs extra oomph!
Regardless of which type you choose, it’s important that there is a safe play area in which to use the headset. VR headsets completely removes any visual of the real world so please remove special vases and keepsakes and ensure the dog isn’t roaming around.
‘Cybersickness’ aka motion sickness can be a real issue for some VR users. When you don the headset and are immersed in a different time and space, your body can get very confused. If your brain thinks you are moving (based on what you are seeing through the headset) but in fact you’re standing still, it creates a disconnect that causes enough confusion to make you feel nauseous. If this happens to your kids, consider reducing the time they spend with the headset, having fewer but smaller sessions to get your ‘VR legs’ and checking the VR headset is being worn correctly.
So, it’s over to you now parents: it’s time to get involved and understand this Metaverse once and for all. Always start with the games and experiences your kids spend their time on but when you’re ready, make sure you check out some of the more adult places such as Decentraland or The Sandbox. Who knows, you might just become a virtual real estate tycoon or set up a business that becomes quite the side hustle! The sky is the limit in the Metaverse!
Till next time!
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