Parent’s guide to VR headsets and VR games for kids
Learn how to choose the best VR headsets for kids and teens, the benefits and risks of VR gaming, and the basics for playing it safe online—and in the living room.
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Is virtual reality (VR) becoming a reality in your house?
As a futurist keynote speaker, parent and author of Parenting High-Tech Kids, I often remind families to set some house rules for the use of any new technology—especially VR. The best VR headsets and games for kids have the potential to introduce children to a world of immersive experiences and interactions—and a few literal stumbles while kids get used to playing with a headset on. That said, here’s what you need to know about bringing VR into your home.
Choosing the best VR headsets for kids
Virtual reality hardware usually includes a headset, motion-tracking sensors and cameras, hand controllers, and sometimes also includes built-in headphones and speakers that create 3D sound effects. Inside the headsets are two stereoscopic lenses, one for each eye, facing an LED screen that distorts the image and makes it appear more lifelike (kind of like the old View-Master toys, but way more high tech). These headsets are just one of several gateways to the metaverse, a virtual reality space where users, typically in the form of digital avatars, can interact with other users and computer-generated environments. When you’re wearing a VR headset, it can feel as if you’re doing loop-de-loops on a rollercoaster, walking through the streets of Rome or skiing down a mountain slope.
VR headsets also offer access to a world of music, movies, games and multi-player social experiences. Some, though not all, headsets come with built-in parental controls, which can limit access to inappropriate content, connectivity options, login times and more.
Generally speaking, most VR headsets are not designed for children under the age of 13, and there’s a variety of reasons: a child’s eyesight is still developing, VR can make even some adults feel motion sickness, and there’s not enough research yet about the long-term effects for children. So look for the recommended age ranges on the box. These product-based age ratings simply provide a helpful snapshot of which age groups the manufacturer has designed the product for.
Follow the product guidelines. Most VR headsets are not designed for children under the age of 13.
Teens should follow the 20-20-20 rule anytime they use screens, including VR: Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.
Review the product’s health and safety guidelines.
Setting up a VR space
Many VR headsets recommend that a VR room or play space should be an open area at least 6.5' x 6.5' that’s free from furniture or clutter that could be bumped into or tripped over. They also suggest making these play spaces away from doorways, walls and staircases. While immersed in these high-tech worlds, virtual reality experiences can leave you unaware of surrounding real-world objects.
Consider taking 5–10 minutes for gamers to orient themselves to new play areas and get a sense of their positioning in the room before starting the game. You might also consider standing by and watching kids as they get started to make sure that your VR room is ready for prime time.
Set up a VR play space that’s free from clutter or furniture.
Some VR headsets suggest you set up a virtual space, or a virtual game board.
Avoid areas with staircases.
Plan to watch a few rounds with your kids to make sure the play space is safe.
Consider using a device to cast the gameplay onto a TV, so you can also monitor what’s happening in the headset.
Virtual reality games for kids: How to choose age-appropriate apps
Keep an eye on content and age ratings when selecting single-player and multi-player VR apps. It’s important for families to discuss what types of VR content, such as cartoon violence, crude humor, etc., are OK for kids to consume, too. These ratings are generally listed alongside the product description in the online store, but they’re not all clearly labeled. If they have questions or encounter something inappropriate, kids should feel encouraged to ask you about it.
As with any high-tech offering, VR games for kids can be designed around a variety of themes: Some are positive and uplifting, and others play to more adult topics. Steer children toward virtual reality offerings that teach them real-world subjects, such as science, math, technology, travel and experiencing other cultures. And think about the kinds of experiences you want your child to avoid, such as simulated swordplay or full-body combat.
It’s also important to know the ways in which VR users can connect, communicate and consume content. As with other internet-ready devices, VR headsets for kids allow them to browse the web, speak or chat with others online, and share multimedia content, such as photos, videos, songs and films. The best VR apps and games for kids can let you play with dozens or even hundreds of others in shared spaces. Set rules, limits and guidelines with your children about what activities are appropriate to engage in and when, as well as who it’s OK to interact with and how—and be clear and consistent about how rules are enforced.
Look for games that teach real-world subjects, such as science, math, technology, travel and experiencing other cultures.
Look for the VR game’s ESRB rating.
How to play it safe with VR
Virtual reality will expose children to simulated experiences and interactions, so it’s important to talk through what they may encounter, how to treat others with respect and what it means to be a good digital citizen. For example, what should they do if they see something inappropriate online—as they would in any other connected space? They need to know that they can talk to you about what they see.
Teach kids to pay attention to their moods and feelings when they’re playing. VR can sometimes feel disorienting, especially when it’s used to convey the impression that you’re standing on the edge of a cliff or the deck of a rocking ship. Kids should plan to take a 20-minute break from play to rest every 20 minutes—especially if they’re feeling anxious, wired, or like they’re experiencing headaches or motion sickness. If so, taking a brief walk outside or laying down and closing your eyes can help.
Watch for children’s online purchases and buying habits in the games, too. As with smartphones and video game systems, VR headsets for kids often provide access to online stores or in-app purchases. Set boundaries with kids on buying options, monitor their purchases and discuss these purchase options with them before they start playing.
Many VR apps are designed to be deeply social and multi-player, and those interactions can be more intense too. It’s crucial to discuss the dangers of interacting with strangers in virtual reality realms and make sure kids know not to share personal information, such as birthdays, addresses, school info, etc., before they start exploring these simulated VR worlds.
Consider turning off tracking features in the app. VR devices, games and apps are fundamentally designed to track your eye and body movements, and some software items may track your location and preferences as well. VR manufacturers and app developers may use this information for other purposes, such as marketing. Review these companies’ privacy policies to understand how they use information and what choices you have about how it’s used or shared.
Talk together about what it means to be a good digital citizen in VR games.
Take game play breaks every 20 minutes.
Pay attention to any physical symptoms your kids may experience when wearing a headset, and know when it’s time to take a break.
Monitor in-app purchases.
Talk together about how the game made them feel after they played it to see if it’s something worth playing again.
Turn off your name, activity and friends list in the privacy settings, which can typically be found in system or app settings menus. Doing so may limit connectivity and location tracking, but generally won’t detract from the overall gameplay experience.
After all, the real beauty of VR is that it can help children see things from entirely new perspectives—both figurative and literal as well. Children also tend to exhibit a greater empathy for other individuals and an interest in exploring surrounding topics further in real-world environments.
As a result, playing with VR technology isn’t just a great way to stimulate connection and conversation. It’s also a great way to prompt interest in new topics and trends by letting kids experience the world through others’ eyes in ways that traditional high-tech offerings simply can’t.
Put the right controls in place for your child’s digital experiences using.