The parent’s guide to the metaverse

By: Yolanda Parks

It’s your “explain it like I’m 5” guide to the metaverse: Here’s what parents and caregivers need to know to help keep kids safe in a 3D virtual universe.

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Child Exploring The Metaverse | Parent’s Guide To The Metaverse

Just to get things started, ask the nearest kid to explain what the metaverse is.

“My son says, ‘It’s like our universe, but better because it has things you can do whenever you want to, and you can never get hurt. There are no limits.’ He’s 12,” says Susan Swanson Waddell, a middle school teacher.

Now ask a parent.

“I explained the metaverse concept to my 14-year-old daughter,” says parent Jonathan Faw, a live and virtual event producer. “And she replied, ‘That’s terrifying.’”

Is your VR headset foggy yet?

If you’ve been online these last few months (even recent years), you’ve heard the term metaverse a lot. It seems everyone is talking about it from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. While the metaverse is touted as the next iteration of the internet that will forever change the way we interact with each other online, the concept has been around for a long time in the gaming world. Remember Pokémon Go? And Webkinz? For many Gen X and millennial parents, the massive amount of publicity has made it challenging to understand the basic idea of the metaverse and how it will impact their tech-savvy children.

Over half the kids in the United States are deep in the mini-metaverse world known as Roblox. Scholars are studying the metaverse’s impact on education, for example, where an augmented reality T-shirt would allow students to study anatomy. But as caregivers with kids,

how can we help them get the best benefit from a new world that promises a 3D reality beyond our flat screens? And how do we keep them safe in a world we can’t see? Yet.

You don’t need a headset to learn that. Simply read on.

But first, what is the metaverse?

The term and the concept of the metaverse was first introduced in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel Snow Crash. Descriptions today vary, but at its essence the metaverse is described as a shared virtual 3D world where everyone will be able to interact via personalized avatars. It will be the merging of the online world with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In this immersive environment, you can virtually go out with friends, shop, work, travel, attend entertainment events, and play games, just like we do in the physical world.

When will the metaverse happen?

The idea of putting on sleek VR headsets or AR glasses and being effortlessly transported from one activity to the next will require a tremendous amount of technological advancement in hardware and software, as well as the high-speed connectivity that 5G can provide. The true metaverse that is envisioned by technology experts and futurists is still years away, but there are elements of it that we can experience today. For example, on December 25, 2021, Facebook’s Oculus headset and free app, “Horizon Worlds,” was the number one free app on Apple’s App Store—a first for the Oculus app

‘What’s Happening Now Are More Proto-Metaverses.’ By Mike Salmon, Senior Vice President Of Gaming And E-Sports, Magid| Parent’s Guide To The Metaverse

The emergence of proto-metaverses

“What’s happening right now are more proto-metaverses, which are these mini versions of the metaverse, where you’re engaging in activity in a metaverse-like way,” says Mike Salmon, Senior Vice President of Gaming and eSports for the research and consulting firm, Magid. Facebook [Meta] and its Oculus app “Horizon Worlds” is in some ways a proto-metaverse because you engage, and you know people and they know you. You interact with people, and you do transactions with them,” says Salmon.

In addition to Meta, other tech companies including Microsoft, Google and BlueJeans by Verizon are developing products and promoting proto-metaverse worlds where users can interact and communicate with others in virtual spaces. If you work from home, the metaverse also represents next-gen video chats and video conferencing with BlueJeans Spaces, where you can interact with co-workers in a virtual office and brainstorm in a virtual conference room.

Gaming as a way for parents to understand the metaverse

The video game industry also has major players in the metaverse creation mix. If parents want to better understand the metaverse and its appeal, they may need to spend time exploring the online games enjoyed by Gen Z and Gen Alpha children, also known as “mini-millennials,” born between 2011 and 2025. These games include Minecraft, the Epic Games franchise, Fortnite and the very popular platform for children, Roblox. All these video games have created proto-metaverse worlds that embody the core components that will make up the metaverse.

Creating a world

Within these proto-metaverse or “mini-metaverse” games, kids can design a world that they want to “live” in and choose the way it will look and who they want to socialize within that world. Of course, parents need to be aware of their child’s interactions and be a support for them. But Salmon reminds parents that this new world can often provide powerful experiences for kids who are introverted or feel unpopular.

“I’ve heard so many awesome stories about Roblox,” says Salmon. “People who may not be accepted in their schools can go into this place and be accepted in this world because it’s people with like minds. There’s great joy and wonder in being accepted in groups even though you’re not a cheerleader or football player.”

Avatars and alternate identities

Having a virtual personality and choosing to be someone you are not is a fundamental part of the metaverse, and it can be exciting and creative for kids. “There is always an escapism if you’re a child,” says Salmon. “[Children] want to be someone different. Halloween is no exception; cosplay is no exception. You want to be a different variation of who you are, and that’s very appealing to a child.”

The idea of their children and those they’re virtually talking to pretending to be someone else is alarming for most parents. Salmon stresses the importance of kids and parents being smart and aware of the risks but offers this point of view.

“Your kid taking on an anonymous persona in a virtual world can actually be safer than a traditional social media experience, where a public profile may reveal personal information about your child. ” Salmon says.

Using currency in a virtual world

Minecraft has Minecoins and for Roblox it’s Robux. Games may be free to play, but real money is used to purchase in-game currency that can buy clothes and gear for your avatars and characters or enhance the look of the game. These virtual currencies are an example of how virtual economies may work in the real metaverse.

Parents and caregivers may be apprehensive about the overarching implications of the metaverse, but Salmon suggests this: “The metaverse is not the bad guy, the internet is not the bad guy, video games are not the bad guy…. Truth is that everyone’s going to be connected, so we have to stop being afraid of these factors of the metaverse, and start being aware of who our kids are and talking to them about what’s going on and being aware of what’s going on.”

How parents can help keep their children safe in the proto-metaverse environment:

  • Monitor your child’s activity on the internet and proto-metaverse platforms and talk to them about the pros and cons of the virtual world. Parents should keep safety front of mind and apply the same level of scrutiny to the metaverse that they would to the traditional internet.

  • When your kids use VR headsets, cast the gameplay onto the family’s main TV.

  • Brush up on your understanding of ESRB ratings, and make sure the proto-metaverse games your Gen Z and Gen Alpha children are playing are age appropriate.

  • Set parental controls on all online games your children play, using products such as Smart Family.

  • Learn how to talk to your kids about their healthy use of virtual technology.

  • Allow proto-metaverse worlds to provide a place for positive self-expression for your Gen Z or Gen Alpha child.

  • Play games with your kids occasionally. Show them you’re interested in what they are doing, and you care.

There’s no need to hide in your headset from the metaverse. To those parents who are concerned that in a couple of years their Gen Z or Gen Alpha children will only want to talk to them as a hologram … relax. The metaverse and the various versions of it are still being developed, and things will probably look different in the next 5 or 10 years.

In the meantime, dig in. Ask questions. Ask your kid to describe it to you. Better still, ask them to show you around. Technology is constantly changing, and parenting is always challenging. However, it’s important that parents keep the channel of communication open with their children as they both navigate their way through the evolving virtual landscape.

While the metaverse continues to take shape, parent with the right controls  using Smart Family.

About the author:

Yolanda Parks is Executive Director, Content Standards and Client Strategy at Magid. She is responsible for developing recommendations on advertising and content standards; online safety; and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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