The metaverse might sound distant or daunting, but it's already on its way and it needn't be threatening or harmful.
The metaverse may sound like a distant concept, but it already has a presence in children’s lives and could be the next giant leap for the internet. That may sound daunting, but fear not – we’re here to help parents feel more meta-literate (yes that is a thing) so that we’re all a little more prepared as our children transition towards the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is a term that’s been thrown around since the early 90s, but since Facebook rebranded as Meta and global companies started investing billions in the metaverse, people have started paying more attention to it.
There are many interpretations of what the metaverse actually is, but most people are describing the metaverse as a series of connected online worlds where users can interact with each other through avatars (graphical representations of a user’s character or persona) using devices such as virtual reality headsets.
While the metaverse has not yet been fully developed, we have seen elements of the metaverse play out already in what some call ‘mini-metaverses’. For example, in Fortnight and Roblox players have their own avatars, can access a shared digital environment, can interact with people in real-time, and the games even have their own currency (V-Bucks and Robux, respectively).
What are the benefits of the metaverse for my child?
It is likely that the children will predominantly use the metaverse for gaming and socialising. It will provide numerous opportunities for them to connect with others, be creative, entertained and even entrepreneurial. But all these experiences will play out in a more immersive way, as children may feel like they are actually present in the digital environment they are accessing.
At Digital Awareness UK, we are most excited about the immersive learning potential of the metaverse. As Meta explained in its promo video “in the metaverse, you’ll be able to teleport not just to any place, but any time as well. Imagine standing on the streets [in Ancient Rome], hearing the sounds, visiting the markets to get a sense of the rhythm of life over 2,000 years ago.” This is pretty powerful stuff and could revolutionise education if Meta’s vision can be realised.
Will there be any risks for children in the metaverse?
In short, yes. Predominantly in relation to privacy and moderation.
The metaverse has not been extensively researched, so we don’t yet fully understand the potential harms children could experience.
It is predicted that many of the issues young people are currently trying to manage in their digital lives (such as online bullying, the spread of misinformation, privacy violations, exposure to sexual or violent content etc.) will also be in the metaverse, although it’s likely they will play out differently. BBC News recently revealed how easy it was for a researcher posing as a 13-year old girl to witness grooming, sexual material, racist insults and rape threats in a virtual reality world.
Some of the main challenges include:
- Parents may not be able to see what their children are doing in the metaverse should they need to intervene, because children will be accessing it through devices like virtual reality headsets or augmented reality glasses
- These sorts of devices can present physiological risks such as nausea, eye strain and disorientation
- Due to the immersive nature of the metaverse, there are also concerns about the psychological risks it may introduce such as addiction, increased aggression, and dissociation from reality
The World Economic Forum has a helpful video that outlines critical issues for parents to be mindful of with the metaverse.
So what’s next?
While the metaverse is far from being fully developed, we believe that the key principles of digital parenting will always stand regardless of how the metaverse evolves:
- Understand the risks to stay informed (reading our articles on the Vodafone UK News Centre can help with this).
- Talk to your child about the risks and opportunities in a fair and balanced way.
- Monitor your child’s activities online using tools such as parental controls.
- Set boundaries (ideally together as a family) so that your children understand what you are comfortable with in terms of how they use technology.
- Communication is of course key – ensuring your children are happy to talk to you about their digital experiences (whether good or bad) is critical when it comes to providing them with the support they need.