Vision Fountain have been user testing VR cultural-educational experiences that we are creating on the general public, at schools, youth groups, festivals and museum sites. Our virtual reality experiences are aimed at those over ten years of age. Metaquest guidelines state 13 is the minimum age, based upon the age required for a Facebook account and safeguarding guidlines, regarding internet access. We place our experiences behind a safegurding interface provied by ArboxXR. We thought the topic required more investigation:
Assessing the impact of VR (Virtual Reality) headset for under 13-year-olds
“The meta quest website, states that the Oculus Quest 2 has been given an age rating of 13 years.
However, this has been set by the international age rating coalition (IARC) which is responsible for regulating the age classification for video games and mobile apps based on their contents rather than the potential negative developmental effects it may have on under 13-year-olds (Oculus.com).
Most VR headset manufacturers do not permit their users to be under the age of 12/13 except for the HTC VIVE which advises against the use of the headsets for young children but does not provide an age (bobcooney.com).
Whilst the age rating of 13 have been given by the IARC, there are still concerns with the use of VR headsets with young children due to the size of the VR headsets, muscular strength required to hold the VR sets and the impact on the developmental process of eyesight.
One of the major concerns has been centred around the potential impact on eye development. Martin Banks, Professor of Optometry, Vision Science, Psychology, and Neuroscience at the University of California states that companies are being cautious about the use in young children as significant development occurs during that period and there has not been long-term research conducted, they are protecting themselves from being liable (digital trends).
The sentiment that VR is not harmful to kids is also supported by the American Academy of Ophthalmology which has stated that “Age limitations for VR technology might make sense for content, but this technology poses no threat to the eyes. However, there is concern that VR may impact eye development in children due to the near-sightedness that occurs when taking part. Near-sightedness or otherwise known as myopia is a condition where close objects appear clear but objects far away are blurry. Near-sightedness has been associated with reading and cell phone use and the rate of near-sightedness has increased from 25% in 1971-1972 to 41.6% in 1999 to 2004 in the age of 12 to 54. This increase has been associated with reading and the use of a computer and some fear VR will only accelerate the issue. However, Martin Banks claims that as the VR headsets have optics in the setups, this leads to eyes having to focus far away to sharpen the image unlike when using a smartphone (digital trends).
When looking at research that has been conducted in this field, there has been very limited, and the research have very small samples that cannot be generalised on a large scale. The first study was conducted by Leeds University in 2017 and it consisted of 20 children aged between 8 – 12 taking part in a 20-minute VR session using followed by an assessment. The researchers reported that one child experienced a drastic worsening in their ability to balance whilst another had difficulties re-acclimatising in hearing (GMW3). Although the study highlighted the potential negative impact of VR in other senses there were no issues related to eyesight as anticipated. Tychsen & Foeller (2020) also conducted an experiment to assess the effect of a VR headset on young children and specifically how it affected visuomotor function, postural stability and motion sickness. The experiment consisted of 50 children aged between 4 – 10 participating in 2 sequential play sessions that lasted for 30 minutes utilising a Sony PlayStation headset. During the sessions, the participants played a first-person 3D flying game (Eagle fight) which required participants to control flight direction through head movement. The research found no significant changes from prior to the experiment regarding eye sights and no significant association cannot be made between VR and fatigue, motion sickness and head/neck discomfort. However, the three participants who did not complete the experiment stated this was due to motion sickness or boredom. Overall, the research so far has not produced evidence to state VR has a negative impact on young children.
Another point to keep in mind when allowing children under 13 to use the devices is that you are going against the terms set out by Facebook. Facebook states that “Creating an account with false info is a violation of our terms. This includes accounts registered on the behalf of someone under 13. […] Note that we’ll promptly delete the account of any child under the age of 13 that’s reported to us […]”. There have been cases where Facebook has locked accounts and asking users to send ID to verify their name and age. However, Facebook also prohibits sharing accounts between multiple people which makes it against the rule to share the VR headset from the one existing account and this could lead to the account getting locked and the device unable to be used.
In conclusion, I do not believe there is solid evidence to suggest that VR is harmful to use for children under the age of 13. However, this does not mean that it is safe as there is very limited research that has been conducted and no research has been conducted investigating the long-term effects. As the use of VR headsets under the age of 13 goes directly against the guidelines of both the headset and Facebook – the parent company, it may be recommended to minimise use to avoid being liable in the unlikely case something occurs. This reasoning has been given as a potential reason why companies such as Nintendo have not got involved with VR as they still have safety/liability concerns. A potential solution against this issue could be to use the VR headset produced by HTC VIV as they do not clearly set an age limit meaning you are not breaking any rules.” – ends
By Yohji Jones, B.A. Glasgow University, School of Psychology