By Elizabeth Milovidov, Digital Parenting Consultant and Coach
Currently, there are no real guidelines, legislation or codes of conduct for the introduction of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) into children’s environments (including whether VR and AR are used for gaming, research, educational or marketing purposes to children), but an excellent starting point for recommendations on how to handle VR and AR can be offered by an adaptation of the EU Kids Online interactive report.
I have slightly modified the text, exchanging VR and AR for internet to illustrate the appropriateness of the recommendations to this new technology. This emphasises how far-reaching the EU Kids Online recommendations are.
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE are encouraged to: Maximise the benefits that the VR and AR afford through diverse activities that expand their digital skills to more participative and creative uses. Share responsibility for the online safety and welfare of others, particularly in contexts of online bullying and harassment where as bystanders or participants they can have decisive impact. Respect age limits for online services and seek advice from parents and teachers about the suitability of services and content they would like to access. Develop proactive coping strategies such as deleting messages, blocking unwanted contacts and using reporting tools. Seek help from a parent, trusted adult or friend if they have been bullied or encounter something problematic online. Review online privacy settings on a regular basis; share personal information only with friends; and never post another’s personal information, including pictures, without consent.
PARENTS should: Support children’s exploration of VR and AR from an early age and inform themselves about the benefits and the risks that VR and AR offer. Focus on enhancing children’s opportunities, coping skills and resilience to potential harm. Think less about risk and focus instead on engaging, fun activities and positive content. Communicate regularly with children about what they may find problematic online. Be clear about expectations and rules relating to online behaviour. Treat media coverage concerning online risks critically.
EDUCATORS should: Promote positive, safe, and effective use of VR and AR by children in all educational contexts including homework, using public libraries, computer clubhouses, ICT workshops, etc. Integrate online safety awareness and digital skills across the curriculum. Ensure the benefits of digital technologies reach all children. Ensure provision of ICT and digital skills development for teachers, supported by awareness raising about risks and safety for young people online. Develop whole-school policies regarding positive uses of technology as well as protocols to deal with instances of online bullying and harassment. Form partnerships with trusted providers and sources of expertise in the delivery of internet safety education.
AWARENESS RAISERS AND MEDIA should: Increase parental understanding about the risks young people face online without being alarmist or sensationalist. Focus first on the many opportunities and benefits that VR and AR afford and only second on the risks to be managed and harm to be avoided. Represent and present young people’s perspectives about online experiences in ways that respect their rights and their privacy. Ensure reporting and awareness raising is based on reliable evidence and robust research.
GOVERNMENT should: Coordinate multi-stakeholder efforts to bring about greater levels of VR and AR safety and ensure there is meaningful youth participation in all relevant multi-stakeholder groupings. Review adequate legislative provision for dealing with online harassment and abuse. Ensure provision for youth protection in traditional media can also support online safety provision. Continue efforts to support digital inclusion of all citizens while providing support for socially disadvantaged parents and households. Promote positive online content, encouraging broadcasters, content developers and entrepreneurs to develop content tailored to the needs of different age groups.
INDUSTRY should: Ensure ‘safety by default’ and enable customisable, easy-to-use safety features, accessible to those with only basic digital literacy. Promote greater standardisation in classification and advisory labels to guide parents. Ensure age limits are real and effective using appropriate methods of age verification where possible and accompanied by sufficient safety information. Implement tools so that under-18s can remove content that may be damaging to their reputation and/or personal integrity. Ensure commercial content is clearly distinguishable, is age-appropriate, ethical and sensitive to local cultural values, gender and race. Support independent evaluation and testing of all specified safety tools and features. Develop a shared resource of standardised industry data regarding the reporting of risks.