Welsh children’s charity urges parents to monitor the Metaverse as VR devices become top Christmas gifts

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

A Welsh children’s charity has urged parents to monitor the Metaverse as VR devices are expected to become a top Christmas gift.

Polling by NSPCC Cymru suggests that one in five parents would buy a VR headset for a child if they had the means ahead of the last shopping weekend before Christmas.

However, at the same time, two-thirds of the public in Wales lack confidence that child safety is a priority in the Metaverse.

In the study, 68% of adults in Wales expressed doubts that tech companies are prioritizing children’s safety in the VR online world.

With products such as Oculus expected to be a festive favourite, the NSPCC’s child safety online experts said they were concerned about children being given unchecked access to such an unregulated online space.

In response, they have published new advice for families on how to keep children safe when using virtual reality including utilizing the device’s safety features and supervising children’s use as they navigate both the virtual risks and physical space around them.

The charity pointed to the example of one child who contacted Childline to say: “Recently I met a guy on my VR game, and I’m confused about how I should feel about him.

“He’s really bad, like he always makes sexual comments towards me and asks me to ‘kiss’ him in the game. I know that’s messed up but I love his voice and he makes me feel like the person I’d rather be.

“Nobody gives me that kind of affection in the real world. I guess that’s why I use VR, so I can look and be like someone I’m not and it makes me feel good about myself. I think I like this guy, but I don’t know if he just likes the character I play as online.”

‘safer’

To help keep children and young people safe when delving into these unregulated spaces, the charity has published parental guidance with some simple steps to follow.

It suggests that parents:

• Make the headset a family activity, taking turns and playing with it together
• Take some time to explore the headset before allowing a child to use it.
• Talk to children about how they use VR. Make sure they know that personal information should not be shared with people they don’t know.
• Get to know the safety features the device offers. Make sure the location is set to private, use parental controls and check that privacy settings are switched on.
• Set healthy boundaries and manage your child’s screen time.

Kate Edwards, Acting Associate Head for Child Safety Online at the NSPCC, said: “Parents who may be thinking about purchasing a VR headset for their child this Christmas need to be aware of the risks young users currently face when given access to what, at this stage, is an unregulated world.

“To highlight this and to help parents create a safer experience for their children, the NSPCC has published some simple steps for them to take before and after handing over the present.

“But this responsibility should not just be on parents. Tech companies must do more to ensure the safety of children on existing products as well as for ones they roll out in the future.

“And the Government needs to deliver a robust Online Safety Bill that accounts for advancements in technology and ensures new devices and platforms are created with child protection at their heart.”

Parents can read more about what to expect from the metaverse on the NSPCC website, before reading the charity’s new parents’ guide about VR headsets.


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