Virtual Reality for Kids: The Good and the Bad

Aug 14, 2022 | 0 Votes by Mel - rate Your vote
Once an intriguing curiosity explored in the 1980s and 1990s by scientists and Hollywood alike, virtual reality or VR is now the next frontier in education, gaming, and even social media. And while VR had been the exclusive domain of adults for years, today, the relative affordability of VR headsets has made VR increasingly popular with kids as well. But are children’s brains actually mature or developed enough to handle the unique features that VR presents? This article will attempt to explore the possible upsides and downsides of kids using virtual reality.
Games Educate Kids - Virtual Reality for Kids: The Good and the Bad

Shockingly, virtual reality has actually been around much longer than the internet, having been developed in 1968 as part of the first head-mounted display system for use in immersive simulation applications. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the VR industry then grew mostly in support of medical training, flight simulation, automobile industry design, and military training purposes before seeing the first widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets used for gaming in the 1990s.

Today, with several headset makers such as Oculus VR, Sony, Google, and Samsung making VR gear much more affordable, plus the recent rebranding of Facebook into “metaverse” company Meta–in which virtual reality is a major feature—children are projected to be a driving market for the industry, particularly in the fields of education, video gaming, and entertainment. But because VR is a relatively unstudied and untested technology with regard to its effects on children’s development, parents and experts are understandably cautious in its use and prudent in accepting its potential advantages.

This article will attempt to objectively break down the perceived benefits and concerns of VR use in children as observed by experts and research studies so that parents can have a better idea on whether VR is a technology worth investing significantly in for their children.

VR: The Good

Makes Learning Fun

With children having much shorter attention spans, it has been proven that moving pictures or objects are the best at capturing their attention. VR as an educational tool allows for immediate engagement and fewer distractions. By changing the visual settings of a VR game, you can cater to an individual student’s visual engagement. Furthermore, kids who are exposed to and comfortable with VR will be able to adapt to tech-enabled learning environments. VR may also be good for teaching things that might otherwise feel abstract to kids, like space travel and exploration.


Develops Positive Behaviors and Enhances Social Skills

Using VR in classrooms has been found by studies to encourage children to work together and build their cooperation skills while improving their communication skills. Because your child is in the intimately private space of virtual reality, it gives your child a greater sense of control over their learning making them more confident when they get to share their learning with others while out of the VR sphere. Self-directed learning, meanwhile, can also increase their level of concentration and information retention.

Increases Motivation

Most VR games require full participation from your kids; if they don’t move, their avatars don’t move and nothing happens in the game. Children learn best when they are encouraged to figure out concepts at their level, and they can do so through the motivating prompts of VR games. It can also motivate your child to want to learn more and engages all children regardless of their learning abilities.

Encourages Physical Activity

VR systems can help encourage physical activity, especially when going outside isn’t an option. Older video game systems might have kids planted on the couch for hours, but VR can actually get your kids up and moving. Children are often motivated to stay physically active when it’s part of a fun gaming experience.

Promotes Creativity and Curiosity

Virtual reality education puts the power in the hands of the learner because they are allowed to make decisions and adjustments in the alternate “universe”. With VR, students are better able to experiment with their creativity, prompted by their curiosity of how things work. This is especially the case for children who might not have the opportunity to travel or physically engage in new experiences that are easily offered through VR. All these factors link to critical thinking and increased retention; thus, bringing their learning to a higher level.

According to a survey conducted by Samsung, 93% of teachers in grades K-12 said their students would be excited about using virtual reality in the classroom and 83% said virtual reality might help their student’s educational outcomes.

Provides a Wide Variety of Cognitive Benefits

Mobility - Research indicates that kids who play VR games that focus on training the brain have better fine motor skills and balance. In fact, they tend to have better mobility overall. Mobility is improved with game play, especially with VR where the player often needs to use their entire body to play the game.
Spatial Attention - VR gaming improves spatial attention in children and gives them the ability to quickly locate a target in a field of distractors, which has proven to be a good predictor of driving ability.
Adaptability to Real World Situations - Playing VR games, which often resemble actual real-world experiences, helps children translate the skills they learned in these educational VR environments to the real world.
Visual Acuity - According to recent research, children that play VR shooting games have increased vision capabilities. Scientists have found that the fast-paced games increase adrenaline and dopamine in the brain which helps maintain and improve brain health.
Mental Flexibility - VR gaming increases mental flexibility and improves a child’s ability to quickly switch seamlessly between tasks with conflicting demands.
Mental Balance - Using VR may be a good way to reduce stress and depression in children. Immersing in a VR game can result in short and long-term mood boosts that help them relax and unwind, reducing blood pressure and improving symptoms of stress and depression.

Provides Assistive Technology for Children with Learning Disabilities

Virtual reality can be viewed as assistive technology, due to its potential to minimize or offset the effects of a disability and provide an alternative means for an individual to accomplish a particular task. For children with disabilities, children are able to explore or create new environments in a manner that allows them to manipulate objects and experience what would normally be difficult or impossible for them to experience in real life.

VR: The Bad

There are a lot of strong opinions about VR and its potential effects on children, but because VR is a fairly new technology and research on its impacts on children is fairly limited, what little identified negative effects VR has on children is far from conclusive. Nevertheless, we’ve listed a handful of issues that parents may want to take into consideration before allowing their children to use VR, such as:

Diminishing Human Connections

This concern actually contradicts the social skills enhancement benefit discussed in the positives section of VR above. And also, as mentioned, VR can be a more intimate experience than older styles of gaming systems. Popular, classic games like Mario Kart and Call of Duty can have a communal aspect to gameplay as other kids in the room watch, react, and generally follow along with what’s happening on the screen. Families also tend to play these games together as a shared indoor activity.

Without screencasting capabilities (only available on some systems), VR is a completely individual activity--it is you and the software, and nothing else. Being immersed in VR excessively may potentially damage the relationships between children and their ability to foster overall human communication and interpersonal connections.


Potential for Addiction and Trauma

The immersive, sensory experience of VR can potentially make it addictive, with children, in particular, whose limited real world experiences make them even more vulnerable to getting addicted to their idealized virtual worlds than adults. We’ve seen how some gamers can become addicted to classic video games, VR can seemingly only make the potential for addiction greater.

What’s more, because VR is designed to mimic real-life experiences and interactions, it can make violent or intense and dramatic situations seem very vivid. These in-game experiences could be traumatic or disturbing to younger children.

Most manufacturers of VR tech and games therefore recommend their products to kids who are at least 12–13 years old as children of a younger age might fail to emphatically discern between reality and fantasy, leading to developmental issues.

Exposure to Inappropriate Content

Related to concerns about addiction and trauma, there is also the issue of inappropriate content.

Some VR games can contain inappropriate content, and there are little to no parental controls available. Many experts also worry that predators will soon join these interactive experiences. Some people claim the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA is the real reason for the 13+ disclaimer on VR devices because that limits personal data collection and requires parental consent for all kids under 13. It is unclear, however, that if companies suspect that a VR or VR game’s user is under 13, they are able to turn off data collection, ask for parental consent, or limit access to mature content.

Furthermore, when it comes to gadgets like VR headsets, you have a system designed by someone whose intention is to manipulate your child—be it for advertising, politics or even religious reasons. Thus, if your child spends long afternoons immersed in his/her VR environment where manipulation is going on, it poses a threat to the child’s autonomy and may hamper their understanding of the world.

Effect of VR on the Brain

VR could have a profound impact on the developing brains of young children. In a study conducted by the University of California on rats, it was found that the behavior of the neurons in a certain brain area associated with spatial learning were altered in virtual environments. More than half of the neurons closed down when exposed to virtual reality. Whether or not these results can be extrapolated to humans remains questionable, but what this study highlighted is that there is a dire need for a more thorough research on the long-term effects of VR technology, especially on young children.

Effect of VR on Vision

One of the biggest concerns that parents have pertaining to VR headsets is about its impact on their children’s eyesight or vision. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, staring continuously at a VR headset screen (or any digital device for that matter) without breaks may cause eye strain or eye fatigue. This is because when you use a VR headset, you tend to blink less than you normally do. This can lead to drying out of the front surface of the eyes, resulting in fatigue.

When your brain thinks you are moving, but your body is static, it creates a disconnect between the two that causes enough confusion to trigger motion sickness. Non-immersion VR games and software can lead to dizziness, sweating, headaches, and even nausea. If your child is susceptible to motion sickness on a rollercoaster, chances are they will likely be susceptible to virtual motion sickness as well.

Vergence-accommodation Conflict

Another issue with VR headsets is something known as vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC). When you normally see the world, your eye first points the eyeballs—vergence—and then focuses the lenses—accommodation—on an object; these two operations are then combined by the brain to construct a coherent picture in just a fraction of a second.

But with VR headsets that feature a flat square screen inside a pair of goggles that present each eye with a slightly different image to simulate depth of field, your eyes will take a noticeably long amount of time to adjust to the new focal point—a second or more than how your eyes would normally scan a real world environment. The discrepancy—VAC—has been known to induce discomfort and fatigue which can cause users to end their sessions early, headaches that persist for hours afterward, or even nausea in certain people.

On the whole, virtual reality has provided society with more positive benefits than disadvantages and is poised to feature more prominently in all of our lives—both adults and children—in the coming years. With its potential to supplement and improve education as well as featuring prominently in the metaverse, tech experts opine that VR manufacturers need to collaborate with scientists and researchers to conscientiously examine the long-term implications of VR technology, especially on the developing brains of children. Until then, parents would be wise to have a healthy understanding of the tech behind VR and establish clear rules around gaming and usage to help make their children’s experience safer.

Featured Games

Adventure Academy Adventure Academy From the creators of one of the world’s leading learning program, ABCmouse, Adventure Academy is a brilliant virtual world game that’s cleverly designed to be both fun to play and also educational. It covers a wide range of topics from science and math to English and is suitable for kids between the ages of 8 to 13. ABCmouse ABCmouse Welcome to a very comprehensive set of games and activities where you child can learn about the alphabet, numbers and much more. Reading IQ Reading IQ Reading IQ is a digital, interactive library app that’s specially designed for kids under the age of 12. With over 1000 specially-curated and child-friendly titles as well as over 700 voiced books, your child will be able to hone their reading and listening skills, bringing these skills to the next level. is a brilliant educational website that uses gamification to encourage and promote fun learning. The site offers entertaining lessons from Kindergarten to Grade 6 based on the Common Core Standards, covering wide-ranging topics under all the important subjects like English, Maths, Science, and Social Sciences. WhiteHat Jr. WhiteHat Jr. WhiteHat Jr is a coding program that offers live online coding classes that are designed to teach kids between the Grades 1 to 12 the skills they’ll needed for coding as well as the ability to code for websites, apps and more. IXL IXL IXL is an educational site which contains quiz-like games for your children aged around 2 to 18. It covers a wide range of topics from math to languages; from the sciences to social studies, making it a suitable supplementary tool for educators, especially those involved in homeschooling.


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