Thinking of buying your kids a virtual reality headset? You might want to think again. New research shows that VR devices can have long-term effects on developing brains.
Today, virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift come with age limits of 12 or 13 years. However, an estimated 26% of (all) gamers around the world are under 18. Based on that, it’s easy to assume that thousands of VR gamers around the world are under the age of 18.
Doctors are now warning parents that VR headsets can lead to long-term health problems – like short-sightedness and digital eye strain.
Doctors are also concerned that VR headsets will change the way a developing brain interprets new stimuli. Research has shown VR headset usage can alter the way the brain accepts and processes visual information – although they admit that more research needs to be done to determine if these effects are long-term.
These problems affect VR gamers of all ages, but they may have a particularly powerful impact on gamers under the age of 18. Key traits like focus, tracking, and depth perception are all developing into middle childhood.
Boston Dr. Joseph Rizzo, who works at the Massachusetts Ear and Eye Centre, recently did an interview with CBS Boston, where he stated that, “This is a big area of both interest and some concern.”
“There’s a legitimate question about whether that much exposure to artificial visual stimuli will alter the way the brain accepts and processes visual information. It’s an unknown.”
The important thing to remember is that the goal of a VR headset is to perfectly mimic reality. VR headsets like the Oculus Rift use lenses to trick the eyes and brain into seeing depth – even though you’re still looking at 2D image.
“The immediate concerns are with the younger users because they will be prone to use them for much longer periods of time”, added Dr. Rizzo.
How to Avoid Virtual Reality Health Problems in Your Children
Children who frequently use VR headsets may be at a higher risk of early myopia (short-sightedness) or nearsightedness, along with digital eye strain.
Some of the best ways to prevent this type of eye strain include:
- Having your child’s vision checked before school starts
- Encouraging 20 second breaks from any digital screens every 20 minutes
- Encouraging longer breaks where physical activity is mandatory
Virtual reality is undoubtedly a cool technology that will blow your kids’ minds. However, based on this latest research, you might want to wait a few years before buying a virtual reality headset for your kids. Research hasn’t definitively shown that virtual reality alters your kids’ brains; however, it has been linked to a higher risk of eye problems.