Your children have requested an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset because all their friends are playing one and you want to know is VR safe for kids? Much like deciding when a child is old enough for a smartphone there are some myths, some facts and some risk about this topic. Let’s breakdown this controversial discussion of virtual reality and children.
Oculus Quest 2 Age Requirements
The official age of use from Oculus/Facebook is 13 years old…. BUT this likely has to do with privacy and advertising to minors laws more than any other reason. Let us explore…
If you have a look at this interview, with Brendan Iribe, the original CEO of Oculus;
“We put a warning on right when you put [the headset] on and the age of 13 was something that made a lot of sense when we became a part of Facebook, their age is 13 as well. And so we just felt ‘let’s start at 13, let’s evolve the technology more, let’s build more confidence, in the health and safety side of it. And eventually, one day, we definitely want to have Oculus for kids, especially for all the educational use of this”
Facebook and Oculus Accounts Require Users to Be 13
So let me state that again, Facebook and Oculus account creation terms of service require that users be 13. Just like you can not legally make a Facebook account for your child under 13, you also CAN NOT legally make them an Oculus Account. They will need to use your Facebook and Oculus account if you want to let them try your Quest 2 out at this time. Recently Oculus updated their terms of service once again to state that anyone under the age of 13 even using an Oculus account is against the terms. That’s something to keep in mind.
But Almost all Technology Accounts Require Users to Be 13….
At this time, there is no Facebook/Oculus ‘parent approval child account’ like Epic Games, so keep all that in mind if you are purchasing a Quest 2 for a kid under 13. You can see based off the above quote from Oculus’s CEO and what others in the industry are doing about regular video games – Facebook and Oculus decided that 13 was the right age to start with mostly for legal reasons, not medical ones. Let’s continue…But what about VR and kids eyes?
Is VR safe for eyes? Will VR hurt children’s eye development?
There is lots of talk on the internet that VR might not be safe for children’s developing eyes. According to this post from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, VR will not hurt children’s eye development.
“Although there are no long-term studies, ophthalmologists agree there is no reason to be concerned that VR headsets will damage eye development, health or function. “Age limitations for VR technology might make sense for content, but as far as we know this technology poses no threat to the eyes,” said Stephen Lipsky, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist”
Near-work eye development issues in VR?
There is also worry about “near-work”. This is when a person is constantly looking up close at something like a book or smartphone, and some studies have shown that this can cause nearsightedness. So because VR is so close to the eye, this is a risk right? VR technology actually has an optics setup to make you think you are looking far away. So the eye actually ends up focusing far away, and it is not near-work at all. This young adult medical study backs that up. Your smartphone is more likely to cause this “near-work” issue than a VR headset because of this.
Seizures and Headaches?
Oculus has reported that about 1 in 4000 people may experience an epileptic seizure from virtual reality triggered by flashing lights. This is no different than Non-VR video games or TV shows ability to cause seizures. You also need to make sure your VR headset is in focus. If not, you can cause some eye strain. The Oculus Quest 2 allows for some adjustment of this, but the headset itself might just be too big to get a clear picture for a smaller child. A child may also not be able to tell you if something is out of focus or not. All of this can cause headaches. Something to keep in mind.
There can always be more studies in life, but the idea that VR causes damage to developing eyes is no. It is a big fat myth at this point in time. We live in a society where fear of litigation and fear of technology is a very serious thing, so many VR companies will err on the side of caution. At this time, it is my opinion you are seeing age limits in the ‘is VR safe for kids” debate, based on potential lawsuits, not medical or health issues. Of course I am not a doctor, just a girl in tech, and you get to make that decision for yourself and your kids.
What about other real risks for kids in Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality for kids will have all the same risks an adult in VR will have. Some will be more pronounced for children and it is worth discussing here. This includes things like online multiplayer experience, the weight of the headset, VR motion sickness for kids, and hitting things in the real world by accident.
To briefly go over these points…
Online Multiplayer Experiences for kids in VR
Many VR games allow you to play in real-time with other players. A game like VR Chat may seem like a fun idea for kids, but it really is the wild west in there. In VRChat, you dress up as any one of millions of types of avatars and visit user made worlds. Many of these avatars and worlds have adult sexualized or trolling themes. There are minimal ways to not interact with other players with out using your avatar and your voice in VRChat. Your 7 year old could easily be talking to a bunch of 40+ year olds, who are innocently dressed up as video game characters, but are *actually* discussing or even acting out sexual topics. Not so great. Other games like Echo VR or Population Earth, (both popular Oculus Quest 2 multiplayer games) have a fair share of adult players who are not too happy about a younger crowd (who technically shouldn’t have an account) playing with them. They won’t hold back from telling your kid exactly how they feel. If you are going to allow your children to use multiplayer games on VR be prepared for them to be seeing and hearing some pretty vulgar stuff. There are many non-multiplayer VR experiences that will remove this risk if you decided that you want to let your kids play VR.
Motion Sickness can happen to children in VR
Motion Sickness in VR is a real thing. Visually induced motion sickness (VIMS) happens when the pictures we see don’t match up with the movement we are doing. It happens to adults and kids alike, but it can hit kids particularly hard. If you get motion sick in real life, you may in the game world, but not always. Many people who are fine on rollercoasters or boats in real life have issues in VR, at least initially. This feeling can go away with time. Monitor your kids’ usage and ask how they are feeling after each play session. Limit the first few experiences to a max of 10-20 minutes and check-in to see how your child feels. Make sure to explain that dizzy and strange feelings can occur, those feelings can last even after the headset is removed, and remember to always take a break. People can and do actually throw up using VR so take it slow.
Accidentally Hitting Things in the Real-world
There is a virtual guardian play space that is set up each time when you use your Oculus Quest 2. You basically draw on the floor where the boundaries in your room are or choose a stationary boundary where you are sitting. If you get too close to the edge of the boundary, the virtual world will dissolve and you will see a camera version of your room. Although this can somewhat help you from running into furniture or a wall, you will likely not stop in time if you run full tilt in that direction. Nor will it stop you from hitting a ceiling fan or accidentally punching a wall unit with that priceless collectible on it. Adults might survive running full speed into a wall with minimal issues hurt beyond their pride, but it can be a bit more damaging for a child to do so.
There are many broken fingers, cut hands, and smashed equipment posted in forums from adults using the Quest 2. The VR world can be very real feeling and leaning on a virtual table, or smashing a tennis racket a little to far is a very real risk. It is a good idea to make sure you are familiar with how the boundary system works and explain how it works to your child.
Weight of The Oculus Quest 2 Headset
The Oculus Quest 2 weighs 503g or about 1.1lbs. For comparison, the average baseball cap weighs 112g or .2lbs. That doesn’t seem like a lot for a Quest 2, but wear it for an hour and you will start to feel it. Almost all of that weight is on the front part of your face/head as well. This is obviously going to be more pronounced in children. Remember to take breaks. The Oculus Quest 2 strap may also not fit a small child’s head effectively, even if it is tightened to its maximum ability. This can cause damage to both your child and the headset if it falls. Be mindful of the extra weight and talk to your kid about it.
Have you noticed a theme yet? Talk to your kids about it and remember to take breaks. VR use with children is not hands off parenting.
Final thoughts on is VR safe for Kids?
You get to make decisions as a parent about using technology, the Oculus Quest 2 or any VR for kids. You should be monitoring your kids use of ANY technology, but VR usage with children especially requires it. Oculus has stated that it is against their terms of service to let a child under 13 use oculus products, so that’s something else to keep in mind. If you decide to let your child use VR, know that at this time, the science states that kids using a VR headset is about the same risk as using a tablet or smartphone. It IS very important to take breaks while using VR, and to talk to your children about the actual real risks discussed in this article and not simply let them figure it out. I hope this post was helpful as you try and make the “is VR safe for Kids” decision for you and your family.