In the world of Care Bears, virtual reality promises great things for our children. Play, of course, but also learn in a more playful way. Virtual reality allows interactive learning, more realistic stories (for example a time travel to study history), exchanges with the whole world.
If a large part of the technology industry pulls out all the stops to promote this technology – Mark Zuckerberg even makes it the heart of the Meta strategy – Scientists are concerned about the risks to our children.
They are rarely mentioned, yet the experience of virtual reality as we know it today is not without consequences for the physical development of our children.
Like any other screen, prolonged exposure can affect vision. Adults who have experienced VR also know that even a short session can cause dizziness, headaches and even temporary disorientation. So many things we don’t want our children to experience. But scientists are no longer concerned about the (often temporary) effects on the body.
Fact or fiction?
While it is still too early to find concrete studies on the effects of VR on children, many scientists prefer to play the prevention card. Many of them believe that it is likely that children do not differentiate between the virtual and the real world.
Thus, their brains can react in the same way in VR as in reality when faced with a stressful situation. Better to avoid violent or scary games. For example, a zombie attack in VR would have the same effect on your child as if this scene had happened in the real world.
The American pharmacologist specializing in neuroscience explains to AFP that the risk for children is “that virtual reality causes changes in their identity, their emotions, their psychology, while they are precisely in the process of forging their personality”.
A concern that (logically) is not shared by professionals in the sector. At the VivaTech show, Mainak Chaudhuri, project manager for start-up Actronika, which specializes in human-machine contact, explained to AFP:
They (the children) are just participating in an experiment. It’s not about participating in a firefight or being involved in a battlefield. We do not create suffering.
If questions about the psychological effects of VR are divided, other aspects of the technology are concerned. Cybersecurity expert Kavya Pearlman explains this “The problem is that children are exposed to content that does not concern them”.
Indeed, on virtual reality platforms developed by companies like Meta, children can evolve into a world where almost anything is possible. The virtual world is just an open door to a multitude of contents whose access is still uncontrolled. It is not impossible for a child who is very young to have access to violent or pornographic content. Worse, kids can even become content creators without understanding.
And if Meta explains that it has already worked well on these issues, you only have to see how easy it is for a child today to bypass the rules of Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram to understand that the company’s speeches do not necessarily adhere to reality. .
Especially since these virtual worlds currently do not have any moderation (that of conventional networks is already often questioned). Thus, malicious users can give in to their worst instincts without worrying. Witness Nina Jane Patel, a British entrepreneur who suffered harassment in the metaverse. She tells:
I entered the common area and was almost immediately approached by three or four male avatars: I felt trapped. They started verbally harassing me, touching my avatar without my consent. Meanwhile, another was taking pictures.
The only protection against these behaviors, therefore, remains the parents. Because if access to virtual reality content is prohibited for children under 12 or 13 depending on the platform, this also applies to social networks. And yet… Fortunately, a recent study shows this young people are not interested in the metaverse. It’s always taken.