Thinking Parent’s Guide to Virtual Reality

My family is a family of gamers. I am the exception. My idea of gaming is the Ms. Pac-Man arcade game at the pizza parlor in my hometown, which no longer exists. When Virtual Reality became a part of the household gaming experiences, I realized the typical rules around video gaming did not apply. As such, I wanted to create this thinking parent’s guide to Virtual Reality (VR). Here, I highlight important differences between this type of gaming and traditional console and PC video gaming.

I am grateful to Ramon Hamilton, the aforementioned partner and game developer, for his insight and expertise in this area, which this article draws heavily on. Not only is he an indie game developer and creator (through our company Think Ten Media Group), but he also develops and creates educational experiences built around VR and other interactivity and has taught VR, game development, and filmmaking to kids and young adults.

What Makes VR Different From PC/Console Gaming

It is possible to cast the VR gaming experience of your child to your television or phone. This is a good idea, especially when your child is starting out. By doing this, as a parent, you will be able to see (and hear, depending on your settings) the same things your child is seeing and hearing. Here are tips for VR casting

However, unlike most gaming and entertainment experiences that our children participate in, VR is a very isolated experience. As such, parents must be more mindful of the content and apps that kids are using and a little more hands-on. We understand that sometimes, as parents, we need or want our child/children engaged with something or entertained so that we can be “off” or not paying close attention. If this is the case, VR is definitely NOT the best option. Better to pick a movie or other already vetted gaming experience. 

Setting Limits and Selecting Apps for Virtual Reality

Additionally, most parents set screen time limits with video gaming. These limits are more important in VR for various reasons: eye strain, neck strain, etc. Many professionals recommend a limit of 30 minutes for kids ages 9-13, particularly in a single setting.

Meta allows parents to set time limits for headset users. You can learn more about that here.

In VR, there are a lot of popular, free social apps. The most popular for youth are Rec Room, Gorilla Tag, and VR chat. While companies behind these apps do their best (in most cases) to try and prevent underage users from entering these spaces, which are generally intended for adults, it is relatively easy for most youth to bypass those restrictions. As such, children can find themselves interacting with inappropriate content in these open spaces.

This reality is a big reason I was motivated to create this thinking parent’s guide to virtual reality. I came to understand how important it is for parents to set up the accounts that their children will use in these spaces and to set them up as Junior Accounts, which tailor restrictions.

On Quest, parents can set up the account through the parent’s email and phone and all apps can be set up through the parents’ phone and email. This way, parents know what apps their kids are using. VR Chat, specifically, can be a very problematic space, so we recommend that children under 16 not be allowed to access this app.

There have been known cases of adults grooming youth in these open VR spaces. Adults in these spaces can use avatars and voice alterations, so there is no identifiable information for those adults who might be using these items in nefarious ways. 

Internet Safety for Kids – a Guide for Virtual Reality and Beyond!

Allowing children to use VR, which can offer some incredible entertainment and educational experiences, requires some education for both parent and child, including reminders about general internet safety, such as sharing real names, ages, addresses, schools, or other personal identifying details. Common sense safety. Here are some great articles with reminders on general internet safety: GFC Global, Kids Health, Consumer Notice, Office of Justice Program, and the UN.  

Please note that while Gorilla Tag is a fun game that kids love, the game itself does not monitor age or actions in any way. This means that if a child or teen is playing in an open space, they will most certainly be interacting with adults. So, we recommend that kids only be allowed to play in private rooms.

A great way to understand the VR space and the best way to keep your child safe in these spaces, as well as to assess what is most appropriate for your child, is to go into these spaces yourself and see what is there before you have your child enter that space. You know your child best! 

Build Trust for Internet Safety and Positive VR Experiences

Finally, as with any activity our children participate in that involves their interactions with others, a key part of keeping kids safe involves having an open line of communication between parent and child, developing and cultivating trust, making sure children know what to watch out for in terms of language or questions that are problematic. As always, we want our children to come to us, and we want our children to have positive social experiences (including social experiences that are social). This is possible with Virtual Reality gaming, but parents must make sure that they’ve set boundaries and established rules and systems for their kids.

If you have specific questions about VR gaming for your child, Ramon has graciously encouraged me to share his email. Please feel free to write him directly with any additional questions you may have at ramon@thinktenmediagroup.com. Or if you have tips to add to this thinking parent’s guide to virtual reality, please share them in the comments! Let us know your experiences with VR.

I also recommend this article about VR for kids: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/virtual-reality-headsets/.

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Jennifer Fischer

Jennifer Fischer is a writer, mediamaker, and teaching artist whose work has been featured by NBCLatino, ABC, Univision, Fusion, NBCBLK, etc. Her film “THE wHOLE” premiered at Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary Human Rights Conference. Recent publications include pieces in Ms. Magazine, Last Girls Club, Literary Mama, Oranges Journal, Barzakh Magazine and Under Her Eye from Black Spot Books. An essay of hers appears in What is a Criminal? Answers from Inside the U.S. Justice System, an anthology from Routledge, published Jan. 2023.
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