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Is ‘goggle time’ the new ‘screen time’? Virtual reality brings great risks for our kids

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However, there is also a potential for the amplification of negative aspects, such as cyberbullying, time displacement, feelings of isolation, and concerns regarding mental wellbeing. Moreover, it is crucial to consider the intensity of the sensory experience and the complexity of the content. Fast-paced and fantastical content in videos can deplete children’s executive functions, which are essential for regulating behaviour.

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The intensity of VR experiences, particularly those with minimal interaction, may have even more significant depletion effects. So far there have only been a limited number of empirical studies conducted on the effects of VR on child development, partly because manufacturers’ guidelines have recommended restricting the use of VR until the age of 13. Of those studies, most have only explored the short-term effects of virtual reality.

Meta’s move to lower the minimum age for VR comes at a time when social media companies are being scrutinised about the potential harm to teenagers’ mental health and their exposure to harmful content. Dr Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently released the health authority’s strongest advisory yet about social media.

He referred to the critical stage in brain development that can make young people more vulnerable to harms from social media and called for “urgent action”. He said we need to “gain a better understanding of the full impact of social media use” to “minimise the harms of social media platforms, and create safer, healthier online environments to protect children”.

In the US this year, two senators requested Meta suspend its premier VR app to teenagers aged between 13-17 due to the physical and mental harm it was causing. Parents had been horrified to discover their children were watching violent and often disturbing VR content. Yet Meta disregarded this call and continued to allow teenagers as young as 13 to access the app.

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Meta has justified its decision, reassuring parents that there has been an established track record for VR use with the general population. It has conceded that children’s visual health needs to be considered despite arguing that there is “no evidence to date showing persistent negative outcomes on vision under conditions of typical and expected use (aside from visual discomfort and eye strain common with use of digital media).” While visual health is important, it is not the central question here.

We need to explore the long-term relationships between VR usage and various aspects of child development, including cognitive functions such as attention control, vision, and executive functions, as well as social, physical, and motor development. Arbitrarily lowering the entry age shows a reckless disregard of the potential consequences.

Therese Keane is professor of STEM education and associate dean of research and industry engagement in the School of Education, La Trobe University. Her research lies at the intersection of digital technologies usage related to children, young people, teachers, parents, and gender.

The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.



However, there is also a potential for the amplification of negative aspects, such as cyberbullying, time displacement, feelings of isolation, and concerns regarding mental wellbeing. Moreover, it is crucial to consider the intensity of the sensory experience and the complexity of the content. Fast-paced and fantastical content in videos can deplete children’s executive functions, which are essential for regulating behaviour.

Loading

The intensity of VR experiences, particularly those with minimal interaction, may have even more significant depletion effects. So far there have only been a limited number of empirical studies conducted on the effects of VR on child development, partly because manufacturers’ guidelines have recommended restricting the use of VR until the age of 13. Of those studies, most have only explored the short-term effects of virtual reality.

Meta’s move to lower the minimum age for VR comes at a time when social media companies are being scrutinised about the potential harm to teenagers’ mental health and their exposure to harmful content. Dr Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently released the health authority’s strongest advisory yet about social media.

He referred to the critical stage in brain development that can make young people more vulnerable to harms from social media and called for “urgent action”. He said we need to “gain a better understanding of the full impact of social media use” to “minimise the harms of social media platforms, and create safer, healthier online environments to protect children”.

In the US this year, two senators requested Meta suspend its premier VR app to teenagers aged between 13-17 due to the physical and mental harm it was causing. Parents had been horrified to discover their children were watching violent and often disturbing VR content. Yet Meta disregarded this call and continued to allow teenagers as young as 13 to access the app.

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Meta has justified its decision, reassuring parents that there has been an established track record for VR use with the general population. It has conceded that children’s visual health needs to be considered despite arguing that there is “no evidence to date showing persistent negative outcomes on vision under conditions of typical and expected use (aside from visual discomfort and eye strain common with use of digital media).” While visual health is important, it is not the central question here.

We need to explore the long-term relationships between VR usage and various aspects of child development, including cognitive functions such as attention control, vision, and executive functions, as well as social, physical, and motor development. Arbitrarily lowering the entry age shows a reckless disregard of the potential consequences.

Therese Keane is professor of STEM education and associate dean of research and industry engagement in the School of Education, La Trobe University. Her research lies at the intersection of digital technologies usage related to children, young people, teachers, parents, and gender.

The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.

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