June 23, 2022

Are VR Headsets Safe For Kids? An In-Depth Look

Kai XR

Lately there’s been tons of buzz about the Metaverse—from Facebook’s rebrand as “Meta,” to last December’s spike in Oculus sales. Amidst all this excitement, popular kids’ games are becoming big names in this new space. As this new digital space continues to experience exponential growth, we’re happy to provide key insight on it for educators and parents. Today, we’ll be answering a super common question: are VR headsets safe for kids?

The good news is that the answer is not scary! Kids using VR can stay very safe, so long as they are using it properly and with relevant safety controls.

As an educator-run company, we want to make sure children stay physically, emotionally, and socially safe both on and offline. Parents and educators can help make this happen by staying up- to-date on the latest recommendations, modeling healthy screen behavior, and talking to kids about entering the metaverse

Not sure where to start? 

We’ll give you some pointers below.

VR and Kids: Physical Safety

Physical safety is of the utmost importance when introducing kids to VR. 

Before you get started, try these three guiding rules:

  • Help kids clear a safe play area (i.e. no vases to knock over or Legos to step on)
  • Create VR time limits and ensuring kids are taking healthy breaks
  • Ensure that responsible adults are monitoring children 13+ during and after using the headset

Essentially, a good rule of thumb is to take the rules and guidelines that your class follows when using screens or playing and to transfer them to time spent in the metaverse. But that’s just the basics. What do the experts have to say?

Child reaches upwards while wearing a VR headset. Animated background shows the planets and sun. VR headsets are safe for kids 13+.

Is VR Bad for Kids? What Researchers Say

First up, the research.

While VR headsets have been around for quite a few years now (The first Oculus Rift was created in 2010), research digging into the effects of these headsets on children has only just begun. This means that whatever research you read about VR—good or bad—keep in mind that more studies must be conducted to fully corroborate the results.

In 2021, three Greek researchers compiled relevant research in a review of literature featured in the journal Virtual Reality. They found that common concerns associated with VR headsets were headaches or nausea. However, in some studies, adults were more likely to report having negative experiences following VR headset use (headache, eye strain, neck soreness, etc.) than were children.

As technology-use has skyrocketed, vision problems have become a growing concern—not just for kids, but everyone. However, virtual reality is not to blame. In one study published in Ophthalmology, researchers shared that increasing cases of myopia were a result of many activities performed close to the eyes, including:

  • Reading
  • Watching TV
  • Playing video games
  • Studying

In this study, children attending cram schools (classes focused on preparing students for entrance exams and other tests) had a higher risk incident of myopia. Researchers hypothesized that this was due to lots of up-close visual activity combined with a lack of time spent outside.  

In another ophthalmology-related study, 50 children between ages 4 and 10 completed two 30-minute sessions of a VR flying game. After each session, researchers assessed participants’ visual-motor function and ability to control their body position. They also checked for visually-induced motion sickness. 

94% of the children in this study experienced no significant changes across the assessment dimensions after both VR sessions. Based on this information, the researchers concluded that young children are unlikely to experience significant impacts to their visual-motor function after playing immersive VR games. 

Is VR Bad for Kids? What Companies Say

Although researchers in the studies mentioned above worked with children as young as 4, most companies that sell VR headsets—including Google, Meta, and Samsung—recommend them for kids 13 and over. 

Why is this? Likely, an abundance of caution, and the fact that safety features for kids are still under construction. Plus, headsets are not designed to fit young children.

The Oculus Quest 2 Safety manual lists the following in their safety guidelines for children:

  • The headset is not sized for children under 13
  • The headset should not be used for prolonged periods of time by children 13+
  • Adults should monitor children 13+ during and after using the headset

Samsung and Google guidelines are similar. All three of these metaverse companies encourage players of all ages to stop use if they experience problems including:

  • Vision problems or eye strain
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Skin irritation
  • Disorientation
  • Trouble balancing

Any users experiencing these problems should stop use immediately and not use a VR headset again until all symptoms are gone. If issues persist, companies encourage users to visit a doctor.

Is VR Bad for Kids? What Parents Say

While researchers and companies studying and creating VR headsets know tons about the product, ultimately parents and educators are the people who see the daily effects of VR on children. What do they think about it?

In December of 2017, Common Sense Media surveyed 471 adults who reported having a VR-playing child between the ages of 8 and 17. These 471 adults are part of a group of over 3,000 adults surveyed who have children under 18. Both VR and non-VR parents were asked for their opinions on the new technology. We’ll share some key findings below:

  • 6% of VR parents reported that they have at least one child who uses VR every day
  • 50% of VR parents said their children had not used VR in the past week
  • 43% of all parents think VR is for children under 13
  • 60% of all parents say they are concerned about health when it comes to kids and VR

The key takeaways from these results are that there is lots of diversity of thought when it comes to kids, VR, and safety. However, parents of kids who use VR can provide insight into what potential physical problems children encounter when using VR.

In the Common Sense Media survey, parents were asked about health issues including bumping into something, dizziness, headaches, and eyestrain. According to the parents, few children experienced these problems. The most common problem was bumping into something, experienced by a mere 13% of children whose parents were surveyed.  

Two children with curly hair look at a tablet. The background is blue. VR headsets are not safe for children under 13.

VR and Kids: Socio-Emotional Safety

While physical safety is generally the easiest to keep tabs on thanks to visual cues (it’s hard to miss a scraped knee), children’s social and emotional health are no less important. The problem is, this dimension of health can be harder to monitor.

The key to keeping track of students’ and children's’ socioemotional wellness is fostering an open channel of communication and paying close attention. However, we get that this is a bit harder to do when it comes to unfamiliar terrain, like the metaverse. 

We’re happy to help! Here, we’ll explore three dimensions of VR headset use relevant to children’s social and emotional health:

  • Multiplayer interaction
  • Advertisements
  • Content

Is VR Safe? Navigating Multiplayer Interactions

In many virtual reality environments, users are able to interact with other avatars. For example, children can join a virtual game of tag where they can interact with other players by following their avatars around the digital world and talking.

This can be great for fostering critical interpersonal skills like:

  • Practicing empathy
  • Making friends
  • Solving problems together

However, the same problems that children run into on the real-life playground can happen on the virtual one. And the fact that anyone can join a metaverse game adds another layer. Without proper guidelines and monitoring, kids could encounter inappropriate language from fellow players.

Ultimately, social VR safety depends on what virtual world kids are interacting with. Adults can prevent kids from being exposed to inappropriate language and behavior by choosing games without user audio or disabling user audio. Choosing educator-approved games made just for kids also goes a long way. We’ll explore this more below.

Is VR Safe? Navigating Ads 

We’ve moved beyond the ad-spot age, when there were clearly defined lines between advertisements and content. Today, ads are embedded into all media—from Tiktoks to Youtube videos. Since younger generations have grown up in this environment, many are adept at navigating it. However, that doesn’t mean they’re immune, especially in an age when complex algorithms send targeted ads to individuals based on their online activity.

Many adults are pushing for more regulations around advertising to children. One survey of 1000 parents of school-aged children found that a majority of parents strongly support removing all ads and sponsorships in children’s content. 

Like any other virtual platform, the metaverse is home to ads and brand partnerships. To keep kids from encountering these, educators and parents can select ad-free options (like Kai XR! More on us later).

Is VR Safe? Navigating Content

Just like smartphones and laptops, VR headsets connect people to content. The past few decades have seen lots of new offerings for adults looking to protect kids in a content-saturated age. These tools include:

  • Standardized movie and TV rating systems
  • Parental controls for devices
  • “Kid Mode” on many popular platforms
  • Orgs like Common Sense and Fair Play for Kids

These resources are priceless in guiding adults as they help kids browse safely. Now, it’s time to bring these resources to VR. Since this technology is still new, there will be growing pains. For example, most VR headsets do not have the same comprehensive parental control options that smartphones do.

However, that doesn’t mean that parents and educators can’t monitor the content that children consume. The first step is understanding what children are accessing when they don a VR headset. Common Sense Media asked parents what activities their children commonly completed in VR. Below are common activities and the percentage of children who engaged in them.

  • Playing games (76%)
  • Watching videos or movies (38%)
  • Exploring environments (33%)
  • Learning something (22%)
  • Connecting with friends (9%)
  • Doing research (7%)
  • Completing medical therapy (1%)

From these stats, it’s clear that responsible adults need to pay most attention to what games children are accessing through virtual reality. Because virtual reality is immersive by nature, you may want to create new home or classroom rules about what games are appropriate in this format.

For example, you may allow kids to play games with cartoon violence in a traditional video game format, but realize that this content scares them when they’re in immersive virtual reality. In this situation, it would make sense to create separate content rules for traditional games and VR games for kids.

Child with dark curly hair reaches forward and smiles while wearing a VR headset. Child is outlined in teal and yellow. Background is purple.

Making VR Headsets Safe at Home and at School 

Now that you’re up to speed on common VR safety concerns, what can you do to avoid them?

First, take a deep breath and remember that VR is an amazing technological breakthrough that offers all sorts of advantages in play and education. Just because it’s unfamiliar, does not mean that it’s dangerous. Much like the internet, VR will open up new pathways that generations before can only dream of. Want to swim with sharks in the morning and pop over to London all before noon? With a VR headset, you can.

Second, develop a plan with your classroom or children. When kids understand why rules are in place—and have a hand in making them—they will be much more likely to follow. Below we’ll outline our recommendations for making VR headsets both physically and socioemotionally safe.

Physical Safety

Whether you’re introducing this new technology to your home or classroom, following product guidelines is a great way to ensure that VR headsets are safe for kids. This means reserving VR headsets for use by children age 13 and older and following use time recommendations. Creating systems around these rules can make them a lot easier for kids to stick to. For example, you can make it standard practice for each new VR user to set a 15 minute kitchen timer before putting on a headset. This can:

  • Help kids visualize how much time they’ll have
  • Prevent alarm snoozing from happening 
  • Prompt peers to encourage one another to honor the guidelines

Below are more VR safety systems to implement at home or school:

  • Cleaning shared VR headsets: create a station with wipes and sanitizer for easy access
  • Knowing when to take a break: create a list of physical sensations that mean it's time to pause VR use. Post where children use VR. Remind children of these regularly.
  • Clearing a VR play space: choose an area where children will play VR and show them how to clean it. You can make this easier by adding bins for quick pick-up.
  • Resting eyes: provide opportunities for kids to rest their eyes before and after VR play. This could include recess, time in the gym, or any activity that doesn’t require students to use short-range vision.

Social Emotional Safety

On and offline, kids’ social and emotional safety is also of the upmost importance. It makes sense that many adults worry about social dynamics online, where it’s harder to see exactly what’s happening. When it comes to VR, there is a super easy way to get around this: screencasting.

Screencasting allows you to see and hear the same thing a VR user experiences, because images are cast onto your:

  • TV
  • Smartphone
  • Computer

Another bonus of screencasting is making it easier to take turns with VR heasets in a classroom. Even if students need to wait to don a headset, they’ll still be able to enjoy watching their classmates explore the virtual realm.

Other important methods to ensure socioemotional VR safety include:

  • Using a service that filters potentially inappropriate content (this is helpful for all sorts of virtual tools, not just VR)
  • Teaching children not to share personal information online  
  • Turning on all available parental controls
  • Creating a nonjudgmental environment so that children will come to you if they ever encounter an uncomfortable VR experience

Creating Safe Environments for Kids Using VR

By far, the easiest way to ensure that VR headsets are safe for kids is to follow age guidelines and ensure that kids are accessing ad-free, educator-approved content. That’s exactly what we offer at Kai XR.

Our digital library includes 100+ virtual field trips and offers experiences catering to a wide variety of student interests. Got a dedicated basketball player in your class? Let them sit courtside at the 2019 All Stars game. Know a student who dreams of working as a marine biologist? Take them to visit the Great Barrier Reef or to see what workers do at a penguin conservation center. 

If you are excited about VR, but teach students who are too young to use headsets, not to worry! Through our Exploration Mode, students of all ages can access virtual experiences via:

  • Laptops,
  • Smartphones,
  • Computers,
  • Tablets

Ready to get started? Learn more about what we offer programs and schools.

Want to read more about the joys of VR? Check out these articles:

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