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What Happened When We Let Virtual Reality In Our Home

Over the holidays, my husband got a set of virtual reality glasses. The two of us were like kids as we tried them out, which we didn't do until our young daughter had gone to bed.

The technologically is amazingly cool, blown away as we were by the immersive experience. But we held off on sharing the glasses, and even the fact we had them, with our daughter.

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We prefer to tread carefully and always try to do research before introducing new technology to our child. We knew the AAP had recently updated its recommendations on screentime, but were unable to find much online specifically on the topic of young kids and virtual reality.

Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab has been conducting research to see how the technology impacts kids. But the results are not complete. So I turned to a parenting expert whose expertise I respect and perspective I admire—Katie Hurley, LCSW and author of "The Happy Kid Handbook" and Mom.me contributor.

"As with other areas of technological advancement and kids, I think parents should follow three goals," Hurley told me. "Supervise them. Try new tech before introducing it to your child, and then use it together. Be present and available. Exercise moderation."

She said technology is great, but so is reading for fun and making mud pies outside.

"Kids might enjoy the virtual reality experience for a bit, but be sure to balance it with other great stuff," she said.

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It's also important to know your child, their interests, fears and limits.

"One child might be really excited about trying virtual reality, but another might be genuinely scared," she said. "Resist the urge to push. Kids try new things when they're ready."

We wanted our daughter to be able to experience the wonder and fun of virtual reality while also keeping her well-being and safety in mind. So we set a few special rules regarding this new technology:

  • No virtual reality within one hour of bedtime
  • No more than 15 minutes at one sitting
  • All virtual reality time must be supervised by a parent
  • Any virtual reality programs to be used must be prescreened and approved by a parent

The first thing my daughter asked was if the glasses would count as screentime. Yep, it does. Our overall rules regarding screentime apply. Her time per day is limited and must be earned.

Once the expectations had been set, we were ready to let her give the glasses a go. And her reaction was priceless:

She declared the experience to be "Awe-SOME!" She was amazed by, and in love with, our new gadget.

There were a couple of points where I was concerned she might be overwhelmed. I kept my hand on her knee so she remembered we were there and she was safe. And we told her she could stop at any time if she felt she needed to.

I also had to remind her a few times not to move around too fast. She gets motion sick on long car rides, and I was a bit concerned. We sat her in my husband's desk chair so he could spin her around slowly to get the full 360 experience. Any time she would jerk her head around quickly, we'd remind her to slow down.

As soon as she had completed her first experience, she wanted to know what other things she could see, what places she could "visit." She looked at the globe in my husband's office and began naming countries she wanted to learn more about.

When thinking about the potential for this new technology, Katie Hurley said that virtual reality may benefit some kids. "Think about kids living in hospitals while undergoing medical treatments—what a great escape for a few moments."

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I happened to find an amazing video of exactly that scenario. (Tissues alert!)

So I love this new technology, but, of course, even my daughter realizes it can't stand up to real experience. So she has a whole new list of places she wants to visit, in real life.

For now, though, she can travel the world from the comfort of my husband's office chair. For 15 minutes at a time.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY: Elizabeth Flora Ross

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