A Welsh children’s charity has urged parents to watch the Metaverse as VR devices are set to become a Christmas gift of choice.
A survey by NSPCC Cymru suggests that one in five parents would buy a VR headset for a child if they could afford it before the last shopping weekend before Christmas.
However, at the same time, two-thirds of the public in Wales are not convinced that child safety is a priority in the metaverse.
In the study, 68% of adults in Wales expressed doubts that tech companies are prioritizing child safety in the online world of virtual reality.
With products such as Oculus set to be a festive favourite, online child safety experts at the NSPCC said they are concerned that children will have unchecked access to such an unregulated online space.
In response, they released new tips for families on how to keep children safe when using VR, including using the device’s safety features and supervising children’s use when in use. they navigate both virtual risks and the physical space around them.
The charity cited the example of a child who contacted Childline to say: “Recently I met a guy on my VR game, and I don’t know how I should feel about him.
“He’s really bad, like he’s always making sexual comments to me and asking me to ‘kiss’ him in the game. I know it’s messed up but I love his voice and he makes me feel like the person that I prefer to be.
“No one gives me that kind of affection in the real world. I guess that’s why I use virtual reality, so I can look and be like someone I’m not and that makes me feel good about myself I think I like this guy but I don’t know if he just likes the character I’m playing online.
To help keep children and young people safe when diving in these unregulated spaces, the charity has released parenting advice with some simple steps to follow.
He suggests to parents:
• Make the helmet a family activity, take turns and play with it together
• Take the time to explore the helmet before allowing a child to use it.
• Talk to children about how they use virtual reality. Make sure they know that personal information should not be shared with people they don’t know.
• Familiarize yourself with the security features offered by the device. Make sure the location is set to private, use parental controls, and check that privacy settings are turned on.
• Set healthy boundaries and manage your child’s screen time.
Kate Edwards, Acting Associate Head of Child Online Safety at the NSPCC, said: “Parents considering buying a VR headset for their child this Christmas should be aware of the risks young users currently face when they have access to what, at this stage, is an unregulated world.
“To highlight this and help parents create a safer experience for their children, the NSPCC has released some simple steps to follow before and after giving the gift.
“But this responsibility should not rest solely with the parents. Tech companies need to do more to ensure child safety on existing products as well as those they roll out in the future.
“And the government must introduce a strong online safety bill that takes into account technological advancements and ensures that new devices and platforms are created with child protection at heart.”
Parents can read more about what to expect from the Metaverse on the NSPCC’s website, before reading the charity’s new parents’ guide to VR headsets.
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