Most social experiences in VR (and on the web) have age restrictions typically either 13+ or 18+ but ages can vary by jurisdiction and the nature of the content. These restrictions are designed to protect both the privacy and safety of young users and it’s very important that people be honest about their date of birth because developers often tailor their experiences to the age of the user.
Most VR headsets enable apps to turn on social features which allow users to communicate with each other, including by voice. Some apps enable people to talk to each other in their real voice. Some apps can scramble voices for minors or others, which offers some level of protection, but there remains a risk of a teen using their voice to share personal information that may make it possible for bad actors to proposition or groom a teen or expose them to inappropriate comments or language. Features like this — which apps can enable on or off by default based on the user’s age — are another reason why it’s so important for users to be honest about their age when signing up for a Meta account and any third-party apps.
Using VR headsets requires users to take physical safety precautions. Some VR users have experienced nausea and dizziness as well as stress, anxiety, and even fear due to the realistic nature of immersive VR experiences. For example, standing on the edge of a virtual building can elicit fear of falling, even though you may be nowhere near an actual skyscraper. It’s important to take frequent breaks while using VR and remove your headset if you ever feel dizzy, nauseous or uncomfortable.
Headsets can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially if worn for long periods, and eye strain is possible. To reduce the risk of discomfort, it’sIi’s important to wear VR gear properly. Quest Pro’s high-quality lenses, faster processors, ergonomic design, and more comfortable fit can potentially help alleviate these potential problems. If users feel discomfort when using the headset, they should take a break and wait for discomfort to end before resuming use.
Finally, there is the risk of physical injury when a headset fully covers your eyes and you’re playing a game or engaging in an activity where you are encouraged to move around or move your arms and hands. Parents and teens should pay attention to the headset’s health and safety warnings, including setting up any protections such as setting up a boundary to help keep you from straqying outside of a safe area where there are no obstacles people or pets to bump into.
Just as with computers, phones and consoles, parents need to be aware of the apps that their children are using, the content they are consuming, the people they’re communicating with and what their children are doing and saying within the device and its apps and services. Not all apps are suitable for teens.
Again, this is one of several reasons it’s important for teens to be honest about their age and for parents to be aware of what their teen is doing on their headset. It’s also a good reason to use any parental supervision tools that the platform supports.
Cyberbullying & stalking
As with all connected technologies, there is a chance that someone might bully, harass or stalk your teen within virtual reality social apps on Quest headsets. Most of the general advice we provide in ConnectSafely’s Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying – ConnectSafely applies to virtual realty, including knowing how to block and report other users, responding thoughtfully and calmly if your child comes to you with problems and working with your child to help them both avoid and overcome the impact of bullying and other abusive behavior.
Because virtual reality is so immersive, the emotional impact of abusive behavior can be more intense than it may be on 2 dimensional screens like phones and computers. Also, because avatars of potentially abusive people can share space with your teen’s avatar, there is a possibility of what feels like physical stalking or abuse that can elicit fears and other intense reactions. It is possible for a teen to feel stalked, harassed or crowded by other people who get too close to them. Even though there is no immediate physical danger, it can be uncomfortable or scary if someone gets too close. Many but not all social apps have some version of personal boundary that keeps other avatars at a distance, so be sure to look for it. Again, knowing how to block, report and mute others are important skills as is the ability to create a boundary around you on social apps that include that feature.
As with all uses of tech, it’s important to take breaks and balance your use of the technology with other activities, including exercise, family time and school work. This is especially important with VR due to the immersive nature of the experience.
Many VR apps, including multiplayer games, have tools to enable users to block, report or mute other people’s avatars as well as other features that can enhance a user’s privacy or safety. Available tools depend on the app and the plaform, so look at the app or go to the developer’s website to learn about what protections they offer.
What if your child is using apps not rated for their age?
Even though there are rules that prohibit people under certain ages from using some apps or platforms, the reality is that many young people do lie about their age (sometimes with parental permission). We don’t condone that, but we do want to make sure that all users are as safe as possible. If you have reason to believe that your child is using an app not designed for their age, start with a conversation to remind them why it’s so important to be honest about their age and review risk management advice from ConnectSafely.
All users should use the privacy and safety tools available within that app and device, avoid posting personal information, avoid engaging in inappropriate conversations, responding to people who are mean or threatening, experiences within an app that aren’t right for you. You’ll find more safety advice at ConnectSafely.org.