A guide to what’s here and what’s to come

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Photo collage of a group of children wearing VR headsets against a video game background

Getty Images/Roblox

For all the wild metaverse hype, the current reality is far more mundane. At its core, the term refers to “a series of connected digital worlds in which users can interact through first-person avatars,” according to a Common Sense Media White Paper. Any adult who has played or heard of The Sims online (or watched the episode of Office who referenced it) will know the basic principle of the metaverse. Anyone who has played Fortnite, Rocket League or Destiny online, or Halo by the way, has already entered it.

When we talk about a metaverse, it usually means a digital world accessible to many people with an Internet connection simultaneously. Ambitiously, this refers to the idea of ​​participating in these spaces in immersive technology like virtual reality (VR). VR technology has come a long way in recent years – devices are much cheaper and the quality of content has improved – although it is likely to develop further.

Like most internet trends, there is a metaverse for kids. Moreover, like the rest of the Internet, its quality and security vary wildly, requiring investment and oversight from caregivers. But it can also be extremely fun and rewarding. Read on to see where the Metaverse Party has already started for kids and what parents should keep in mind when attending.

An age-by-age guide to having fun in the Metaverse

Children 6 and under: no metaverse for you

Younger children will probably skip the Metaverse completely. They’re too young for most or all online multiplayer games and aren’t developmentally ready for a VR headset, which can make some wearers feel sick and lead to eye strain. Most children under the age of 6 cannot read or write fluently, so chatting is not an appealing activity.

Games are always an option for these children, however. Minecraft can be played locally on a game console or a private server, for example. the PBS Kids app is free and full of high quality entertainment. Options like these allow young children to have fun with fewer safety concerns.

Kids 6-12: Dig Your Toes Into The Metaverse

This is the age where immersive online gaming begins to develop. Meta’s Messenger Kids app is designed for kids ages 6-12, who are too young to have a standard Facebook account. Company representatives say chatting with friends while playing the Roblox online game is a common practice, analogous to older children chatting on Discord while playing. fortnitebut with much more built-in monitoring.

Shane Rafferty, technology support specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, uses games and virtual reality to entertain and support children and families during hospital stays. He’s seen first-hand how gambling can make a hospital stay less unpleasant or a welcome distraction from a medical procedure.

Minecraft is popular, he said, because of its open-ended nature: “Kids can do whatever they want.”

Caregivers will want to pay particular attention to privacy and safety settings for children at the bottom of this age range. Roblox’s threshold for preemptive chat filtering is 13, and parents can also restrict what activities children can do and if they can discuss at all. The purpose of the metaverse is to be in digital community with other people, which is what makes it fun and requires caution. Semi-public spaces like Roblox (which requires a subscription fee) or private Minecraft servers can give kids the opportunity to play online with friends.

Digital advocacy groups are increasingly calling on digital entertainment companies to be more sensitive to children’s play needs in their design. the 5Rights Foundation UK published a report last year describing the ways in which digital media (including the nascent metaverse) fails to meet the needs of children and the opportunities to do a better job. While interviewing children, authors Kruakae Pothong and Sonia Livingstone discovered that children want more control over their playtime and don’t want to feel taken advantage of by entertainment platforms. In individual families, parents can help their children achieve these goals by collaboratively discussing the types and amounts of media use.

If kids have their own devices, it’s especially important to have open discussions about how much and how often they use them. Before returning a device, your the child must learn mindfulness– or how they feel at any given time – to help them develop a healthy relationship with technology. One of the downsides of social and online media is that it can seem like a no-brainer for children – they are constantly in the grip of their social world. They need to know how and when to unplug.

Kids 13+: Mainly a free game, but tips are still important

This is the maximum age to chat on Discord while playing fortnite, and if you haven’t heard of Twitch yet, you will soon. Millennial parents will likely remember their time on AIM as teenagers, and today’s platforms aren’t much different. Most of the benefits and risks of engagement are similar across all digital entertainment options, be it TikTok, Instagram or animal crossing.

Once children reach the age of 13, there are fewer legal restrictions regarding their data and privacy. Functionally, they become adults on the Internet. For this reason, privacy and security concerns become paramount here. Parents should make sure teens understand basic internet safety and know not to give out personal information on the internet.

Children who are expanding their social circle online need to know what to do if they are bullied or come across inappropriate content.

“If you want them to explore, they’re inevitably going to see inappropriate things,” says design critic and book author Alexandra Lange. childhood design. Telling children what to do when this happens and letting them know you won’t be angry when they come to you “can take away some of the worry on both sides,” she says.

What’s next for children in the Metaverse?

Despite the press releases of major projects, like Lego and Epic, there’s a lack of detail on exactly what a kid-friendly metaverse will look like. But when it comes to VR, there are some exciting apps out there.

Rafferty uses gaming and virtual reality devices to support and entertain children and families during hospital stays. Virtual reality in the metaverse — digital interaction with others in a shared online space — has exciting applications for these children, he says. He sees potential for fraternal visits between the children at home and those in the hospital.

“Even though it’s virtual, it interacts and engages more than just a phone call,” he says.

The Metaverse could also host facilitated support groups or therapy sessions for children with certain illnesses or injuries, he suggested. Rather than being limited to who lives nearby, people from all over the country could join.

Rafferty is optimistic about the potential for VR socialization for children who are otherwise isolated in the hospital. “The more normalized it is,” he says, referring to hanging out or going to school in virtual reality, “the less impact it will have on children who are stuck in the hospital for a long time. period”.

Alone a quarter of teens currently own VR headsets– partly due to cost and user experience barriers – so the fully immersive metaverse isn’t quite mainstream Again. But parents need to stay on top of new advancements and apps because their kids might be there, if they aren’t already, sooner than they think.

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