The metaverse presents an interesting situation for parents. With its introduction, the line between real and virtual is growing blurrier by the day. That’s why it’s important for parents to have a good understanding of boundaries for your family.
There are few topics that provide parents with as many questions or worries like technology can. The metaverse is one of the latest technological advancements to create angst for parents. Billed as the next evolution of the internet, the metaverse carries seismic potential for our kids. Moreover, the metaverse impacts how we might interact within digital spaces in the future.
As companies like Facebook (now Meta) and Google jockey for influence within the growing metaverse landscape, it’s our kids that are already at the center of these conversations. At this point, the correlation between screen time and mental health is undeniable. Especially in teenagers and even younger kids.
But what happens when screen time as we know it changes?
With the metaverse, screen time shifts from a relatively static act of scrolling and clicking to an immersive experience stimulating each of our senses? In our expanding technological age, the line between real and virtual continues to blur. With the introduction of the metaverse, that line will only get blurrier.
That’s why it’s important for you as a parent to have a good understanding of the metaverse, its potential, and your plan to respond for your family and children’s future.
What is the Metaverse?
As is common with advancements in technology, it’s difficult to universally define new products before they’re embedded within our culture. To some, the metaverse might simply include virtual reality headsets and various games. To others, the metaverse is a bit more complex and comprehensive.
At PluggedIn, our editorial team defines the metaverse as “an alternate digital reality where people can work, play, and socialize.” On the surface, it seems harmless right?
Our team continues to say, “You can think of it [the metaverse] as a restructuring of the web in such a way that you step into it and interact as if you were inside a role-playing game world.”
In the new metaverse, you’ll be able to do pretty much anything from anywhere, based on the capabilities of your computer and software. Seemingly, the only limits are time, money, and your imagination.
That’s where things start to get a little bit unnerving when you consider the consequences of a metaverse environment.
How to Access the Metaverse
Right now, the metaverse is primarily accessible through virtual reality headsets, phones, and computers. To be clear, there is no singular metaverse. Rather, there are multiple platforms across various sites to access individual metaverses.
For example, there are relatively family-friendly platforms like Minecraft or Roblox that could be considered as metaverses. On a greater level, Facebook’s new Horizon Worlds is a metaverse designed more intentionally for adults. Our PluggedIn team reviewed Horizon Worlds if you’d like to learn more.
Since metaverses are still relatively new in the grand scope of digital experiences, regulation and moderation is still in development. Which also means that it’s easy to circumvent some of the current rules in place.
Kids and the Metaverse
Facebook’s Horizon Worlds produces a fascinating (and potentially troubling) case study of the relationship between kids and the metaverse. Horizon Worlds is supposed to be for adults-only. In fact, it’s limited to adults 18 and older. However, by most accounts children seem to be the primary users of the metaverse platform.
The Washington Post reported some of the concerns and graver fears of a virtual reality landscape that mixes young children with adult strangers. Will Oremus writes, “…in a largely self-moderated virtual world, the company is inadvertently creating a hunting ground for sexual predators.”
Other initial concerns pinpoint a metaverse user’s ability to create a fictionalized avatar in a fictionalized universe. With kids in mind, the ability to project a different version of yourself in a metaverse landscape has a good chance of impacting his or her view of their identity when they’re no longer online.
The usual mental health suspects pop up when psychologists and scientists question the metaverse’s effects on kids. Loneliness. Isolation. Body Image. Exposure to inappropriate content. These are only a few of the potential side effects the metaverse could have on kids.
Dangers of the Metaverse
We already know there are significant risks involving social media, teens, and their mental health. Specifically, the negative impact of Instagram on teenage girls’ mental health. Again, our PluggedIn team writes at length about the potential negative side effects of the metaverse on tween and teens mental health here.
Yet, there are a few other dangers of the metaverse that require your discernment and attention.
Across social media platforms, age verification is often unreliable and inaccurate. Moreover, it does little as a barrier to keep younger kids from accessing various games, platforms, and other accounts intended for adults. The metaverse will need to contend with age verification strategies. For now, it doesn’t seem like there’s a universally accepted nor successful solution to this type of regulation.
Emerging studies present the potential correlation between metaverse activity and increased behaviors of aggression and disassociation from reality. The fear is that not only will metaverse activity increase loneliness, but it could also increase aggression.
The metaverse is founded on customization. Yet, as branding and advertisement work their way into metaverses, maintaining your children’s privacy will be at risk. As users customize their metaverse experience, they will leave a digital trail that can be easily tracked by data companies that aren’t always transparent themselves.
Exposure to Sexually-Graphic Content
As a whole, the metaverse is widely ungoverned. In any place without clear rules or moderation, sexually explicit content is usually not far away from arriving. Again, in a world where anything can be created, virtual strip clubs or simulation of sexual acts are not far-fetched ideas that any user could come across.
What Parents Can Do about the Metaverse
It’s clear that the metaverse contains a potential dark side to its engaging content and world-building features. No amount of regulation or moderation could substitute for the role you can play in your children’s life.
You might feel overwhelmed about the idea of the metaverse. However, the advice, wisdom, and guidance you provide for your tween or teen can establish effective boundaries for interaction with the metaverse and virtual reality.
- Set good boundaries. But more importantly stick to them. Focus on when, where, and how much access your kids have to online experiences like the metaverse.
- Maintain communication with your kids. It can be easy to ignore technology, especially when you don’t directly own it. Yet, it’s important for you to be aware of your children’s online activity and their interests across the internet.
- Build trust by spending time with your kids. There are few more impactful habits to cultivate in your family than listening. Practice listening to your kids. Then, look for entertainment options you can enjoy together. So that you can build trust for when your children start to make entertainment choices on their own in the future.
Final Thoughts on the Metaverse
Your children’s safety, both future and present, begins in your home. Your approach matters, and silence or ignoring these topics communicates a message all the same. Even though the metaverse may seem mysterious or a distant invention of science fiction, it and further technological novelties will impact not only the virtual world but the real one as well.
As Christians, the real world is the one we care about. That isn’t to say that we neglect entertainment or remove ourselves entirely from the world’s latest creations. However, we do proceed with caution and discernment, with an awareness of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Finally, teaching your kids how to do the same reveals how your love and care for them goes beyond a simple yes or no.