Recently we released a post onto our social media channels containing a video of Isabelle, aged 4, experiencing 30 seconds of our Rollercoaster VR application which we built for Nestlé Cereals. The video received a lot of likes, and then one comment came through;
“this is very bad, not safe for children”  
It was a valid comment, however it offered no further information to support the statement. We decided that perhaps this was something that needed more scoping as gamification aside, the future for improved learning is full VR immersion. The potential is huge.

Virtual reality is still very much an emerging technology, in its early adoption stages. With that in mind let’s steer away from making grand sweeping statements and focus on what we know;

  • Oculus Rift and Samsung GEAR VR have a 13+ age restriction.
  • Sony Playstation VR is for use of children aged 12 and up.
  • HTC Vive warns against young children using their headset.

Age limits and restrictions we can assume to an extent are in place to provide guidance to parents but conversely to protect the manufacturers of VR equipment from potential legal claims further down the line.

Metaphorical Human Technology
What effect will VR have on the developing mind?

Why restrict?

Younger children’s minds are developing at a faster rate up until adolescence when they finally begin to slow. Therefore it is recommended to remain cautious until they are 12 and above.

It is too soon to tell if having prolonged sections of the day in Virtual Reality or using it on a continual basis for short spells will as yet have any long-term side effects to a persons’ health – mental or physical. The virtual world can have a lingering impact, like coming out of a vivid dream, which can take a while to dissipate after disconnecting- will young children be able to cope with this and differentiate between the real and unreal?

Temporary side effects such as Visually Induced Motion Sickness (VIMS) – caused by the difference between the immersive visual experience of the mind and the static physical experience of the body – is naturally harder for smaller children to cope with if they already suffer with travel sickness.

Most parents would be willing to admit it is still an impossible task to completely prevent a child from bumping their head, tripping over a toy, or injuring themselves in some death-defying stunt at some point. Immersed in the world of virtual reality means that unless the physical space around them has been cleared completely, a bookcase, coffee table, chair leg or worse is ultimately going to be the unseen enemy when your child goes to move around within their game.

Anyone experiencing a few minutes in virtual reality naturally after the lift off the headset has a few moments of optical readjustment; blurred vision, until their focus returns. For young children, whose eye muscles are still gaining strength there is a potential later risk to develop myopia.

girl playing in virtual reality glasses
Children in VR, is it safe?

Counter perspective

Myopia in younger children has increased over the last two decades, however this is caused generally by screens and books being held too close to the eyes, which prevents the eyes from focusing properly.

The optics in VR function to mimic the way our eyes work by displaying a slightly different image to each eye individually. Secondly, although the screen is close to the eye, because it is immersing the user in a full 3D environment there is a sense of depth, encouraging the eye to focus to sharpen the image.

Not only this, VR headsets could be the future of eye testing and diagnosing of optic problems. It makes sense to utilise Virtual Reality for early detection of sight problems and even to treat lazy eye syndrome.

So are young children going to be the excluded party from this new exciting technology?

The educational benefits of children learning in a virtual environment are already proving that VR will soon be a feature of the classroom as established as building blocks and crayons.

It’s unlikely, parents will exercise caution but will judge for themselves if their child is able to cope with a short VR experience.

There is a third way, collaborative immersion for projects – such as this fantastic video in which children from a school in America are taken on a school trip to Mars. Classrooms could be turned into virtual environments with 3D environment mapping, augmented reality and mixed reality.

Naturally children are going to be curious about ‘what’s inside the goggles’, so at the parent’s discretion maybe a 30 second roller coaster ride could be allowed? Here’s the video of Isabelle, aged 4, all smiles!