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Common Sense checks parental temperature on VR for kids

Negative health effects and inappropriate content are among the top VR concerns of parents, according to a new US study on kids and virtual reality.
April 4, 2018

As virtual reality struggles to reach mass adoption, new US research from non-profit org Common Sense Media takes a closer look at parents’ attitudes about VR for kids, and answers questions parents and teachers have about the emerging technology and its potential impact on children.

Co-authored by Jeremy Bailenson—founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab—Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR breaks down results from a Common Sense/SurveyMonkey online poll conducted amongst a sample of 12,148 American adults from December 21 to 31, 2017.

Within the sample, 3,613 respondents are parents of at least one child under the age of 18, and 471 have eight- to 17-year-old children who use VR.

Among the key findings around ownership and interest levels, only one in five US families (21%) with children under 18 report owning a VR device, and the majority (65%) aren’t planning to buy VR hardware.

And despite high interest levels amongst US children—the study cites 2017 research from Dubit’s Dr. Dylan Yamada-Rice indicating that 70% of US children ages eight to 15 were found to be “extremely” or “fairly” interested in experiencing VR—kids aren’t actually using VR that often, and parents have multiple reasons for not purchasing VR devices.

According to the survey, 50% of kids in the sample of parents of eight- to 17-year-olds who use VR hadn’t used their VR device in the past week, and only 6% of parents said that one or more of their children had used VR every day in the past week.

Meanwhile, amongst families with children under 18 who don’t own and are not planning to buy a VR device, lack of interest in using the technology was the top reason why (56%); 31% don’t know enough about VR, 28% say it’s too expensive, 20% are concerned about health effects, 10% think it’s gimmicky, and 6% say it’s too hard to discover content.

As for VR’s impact on health, 60% of parents say they are at least “somewhat concerned” that their kids will experience negative health effects while using VR, and half of them are “very concerned.” Amongst parents of eight- to 17-year-olds who use VR, 13% of kids have experienced bumping into something, 11% reported dizziness, 10% have suffered headaches, and 8% reported eye strain.

But the number-one VR concern of parents is the potential exposure to violent/sexual content or pornography. A full 70% are worried about inappropriate VR content reaching their kids, 67% are concerned their kids will spend too much time with VR, and 61% are concerned about social isolation. However, nearly half (45%) of parents say that VR is appropriate for children under the age of 13.

Looking at the positive potential of VR, 62% of parents overall believe that VR will provide educational experiences for their children. That number jumps to 84% for parents of eight- to 17-year-olds who use VR.

Despite the educational potential, only 22% of children surveyed have used VR for learning—compared to 76% using VR for playing games, 38% watching videos or movies, 33% exploring environments, 9% connecting with friends, 7% doing research and 1% using VR for medical therapy or intervention.

The report also concludes that VR can potentially be an effective tool for encouraging empathy among children, but 56% of parents of eight- to 17-year-olds who use VR don’t expect that kids will learn to empathize with others while using VR. And amongst parents overall, 38% feel that way.

However, nearly 60% of all parents say VR will allow children to do things they otherwise couldn’t do, and 78% of parents of eight- to 17-year-olds who use VR say it’s a fun way to play together as a family.

Using its own insights gleaned from existing VR research, Common Sense also concludes that characters in VR may be even more influential on young children than characters on TV or computers, which can be good or bad, depending on the influence.

The report cites a Bailenson study from 2017 in which kids ages four to six were assigned to interact with Sesame Street‘s Grover, either in VR or on a two-dimensional screen. The results suggested that children in the VR world were more likely to treat Grover as a friend than children in the traditional TV condition.

In terms of solutions for parents, given that VR safety concerns are legitimate, the report recommends that they set usage time limits for their kids. And when choosing VR content, parents should consider whether they would want their children to have the same experience in the real world.

Another key recommendation is to create safe spaces where kids can sit down and experience VR, including location-based VR centers using high-end systems and offering more of a social experience.

As for privacy issues, the report urges that parents closely read and understand a product’s or service’s privacy policies before using it, and the potential for VR to collect large amounts of information from users, including eye movements and other physical responses, should not be underestimated.

The report comes on the heels of a new US study from Deloitte, which found that consumers’ value of VR headsets has fallen by 14% since 2015, although there is growing demand for digital reality experiences. According to the study, more than 40% of consumers, and 57% of 14- to 34-year-olds, say they would go to the movie theater more frequently for an AR, VR or 360-degree experience.

Despite the slower than expected consumer acceptance and technological improvements around VR, more kids properties continue to enter the space, including One Animation’s Oddbods, Toei Animation’s One Piece and LEGOLAND, which is adding VR racing to kids roller coasters.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

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