A LOT of parents and carers find it difficult to keep up with online technology, but it’s something children and young people deal with every day.
You may have read about the metaverse being the next big development in digital technology. It’s important to know what exactly it is, and what risks it could pose to children and young people. The metaverse is an online environment where users can take part in day-to day activities – ones you might already enjoy offline in the ‘real world’. You can go shopping in the metaverse, watch a film at a virtual cinema, for example. Some experts have referred to it as a ‘3D internet’.
If, like me, you remember the virtual reality craze of the 1990s, you might recognise elements, as companies use technology to develop parts of the metaverse which can be accessed using a headset. This creates a real-life experience; using the same headset to go supermarket shopping as to check your social media accounts.
Tech companies are experimenting with the metaverse. Facebook changed its name to ‘Meta’ and launched a virtual reality platform called Horizon Worlds, while virtual reality has been popular in the gaming industry for a few years, with Roblox and Fortnite already using online gaming environments accessed using a headset. Roblox recently partnered with Nike to launch a virtual store, ‘Nikeland’, where players can try on and purchase virtual trainers for their avatars.
But what does this mean for children and young people? Younger children who play games like Pokémon Go are already familiar with augmented reality where computed generated graphics are added to the real-world environment that players can see through the camera on their phone or device, and some games use a mixture of both virtual and augmented reality. Technologies are being developed that allow users to feel virtual items or elements in the offline world.
Developments like this bring concerns for parents. One of the NSPCC’s concerns is that there is no age-assurance on the virtual platform, so anyone can go online and pretend to be younger or older than they are. This makes it easier for children to access inappropriate material or digital environments where they could be at risk, and easier for online offenders to groom, bully or abuse children. Also, children could have inappropriate content directed towards them before online moderators can prevent it .
For advice on helping guide your child through the online world, and keeping up to date with new developments and technologies, visit nspcc.org.uk/online-safety
* Debra Radford is Assistant Director, NSPCC for Yorkshire and the North East