By Jennifer Geller, Savvy Cyber Kids Contributor.

Fast Company recently shared a crazy vision about the future of virtual reality… “we’ll all soon be plunged into a gently glowing alphabet soup of AR, VR, AI, MR, and IoT–augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, “mixed reality,” and the Internet of Things. We’ll be inhabiting the bodies of avatars 24/7, exchanging GIFs with our sentient refrigerators, and using virtual assistants to ward off telemarketing bots. Digital experiences will be so immersive and pervasive that Yellowstone National Park will look like today’s Times Square. By then, the existence of screens as separate entities, with borders and off buttons, will be a quaint, half-remembered state of affairs.”

Um, can I get off the ride, please? If you ask me, it’s a dizzying glimpse into the future. And while this may not be exactly what is in store for us, there is no doubt that what we as parents spend a lot of time talking about—screens—will soon be a thing of the past and the ways that we experience technology will not be by looking at screen but rather via a viewer or some other device. Your kids are loving what is already out there and they are going to be seeking it out more and more.

Who can blame them? Virtual reality takes you from wherever you are and transports you anywhere imaginable. An African safari, European streets, a mountaintop, even sailing the Arabian Sea are all within your reach. Virtual reality is designed to make you think and feel things that you know, intellectually, are not real. And yet, nausea and fear are par for the course reactions to someone immersed in a virtual reality standing at the edge of the cliff. Knowing something is unreal isn’t as powerful as feeling it is real.

A lot of parents are asking, is virtual reality safe for kids? While not a lot is truly known about this technology, how it affects anyone, let alone kids, Common Sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is a great place to start.

Here’s the most salient points from the study to consider before you and your family head out to the new virtual reality arcade in your town:

  • VR is an intense experience, not for the meek…so choose your experience carefully. If a particular adventure can lead to an emotional response of fear, anxiety or disorientation, it may be wiser to choose an experience rooted in joy or excitement.
  • Choose content that supports your family values and is age-appropriate. Being immersed in virtual first person shooter games cannot possibly be good for a child, can it? Visiting a far-off land? Now that sounds worthwhile!
  • Since the jury is out on how much virtual reality is safe for children, lean towards moderation. Some studies suggest that virtual reality can be dangerous for eye health, especially for growing eyes, with the concern being that prolonged use can cause myopia or nearsightedness. Also, VR can exacerbate some health conditions, particularly those sensitive to light and motion. And always, always make sure that virtual reality exposure is supported by parental supervision.
  • Play it safe. Make sure your child is oriented to their physical space once their googles or headset is on. Move furniture that could get in their way. Don’t let them play for too long until they understand how virtual reality feels physically during and after play. Be a spotter for your kids to make sure that they stay out of harm’s way.
  • Observe your child’s emotional responses while they play. If they feel sick or look tired, nervous or upset, time’s up on that session!
  • Remember, VR is still screen time and you should have similar screen time rules for it, as you would for other technologies.
  • Talk about it afterwards. This is new for everyone. What does it mean for your child to feel something that is not real. Ask them if they understood it to be unreal in the moment. Talk about how virtual reality is different than playing traditional video games. Guess what, you are having ‘The Tech Talk’ and getting involved in their digital lives!

To be fair, there may be a huge upside to virtual reality as a teaching tool in the future. At the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab, they are creating virtual reality experiences that allow groups of people to interact together, either from the same room or from miles and miles apart. And these early interactive experiences include painting together, playing music together, playing catch and operating puppets. This sounds amazing! Imagine you and your child choosing an experience and visiting it together. It’s hard not to get excited about the possibilities. Pass me the VR, please!

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