At a Glance

MAY 05, 2022

Is Oculus Safe for Kids?

Know the risks of this VR gaming experience

By Allyson Thayne
Gabb Family Resources

Owned by Meta Platforms (Facebook), Oculus gaming headsets are stand-alone, wireless devices that run virtual reality (VR) games and software on Android.

Your kids will enter another world once they pop on the VR goggles. 

“Do Just About Anything With Anyone—From Anywhere”

—Oculus tagline

Players can watch videos and movies, play games, and browse the web. The system’s biggest draw is the ability to meet and interact with strangers from all around the world, which makes the Oculus inherently dangerous for kids.

woman using Oculus

Oculus Dangers

VR may seem exciting and innovative, but it presents serious threats to children.

Specifically, there are few controls, limited child protections, and weak age restrictions.

The Oculus tagline claims, “Do Just About Anything With Anyone—From Anywhere”.[a] While this describes the online community-building capabilities of the devices, it shows that the company does not prioritize child safety, but rather profit.

Because of this, we need to be extra vigilant in understanding these concerns.

young boy using virtual reality headset

Limited controls

Despite requiring a Facebook account for access and offering some limited security features, there are no actual parental controls found within Oculus. [b]

Simply put, the device doesn’t include native content filters, built-in restrictions, or easily accessible game ratings—leaving parents unsupported and kids unprotected. [c] Being proactive is much harder for parents as a result.

Exposed kids

What Oculus does provide are after-the-fact notifications, limited tech features like screencasting [d], and minimal access restrictions that all require the use of a separate mobile app and constant parental involvement. [e] 

With most families getting just 37 minutes of quality time together each day, constantly monitoring VR usage seems like an unrealistic expectation for parents. [f]

Thus, kids are left to rely on minimal safety protections included with the device.

6 in 10 children
aged 3-17 played
games online in 2021, increasing to
three-quarters of
12-17s.

—(Ofcom, 2022)

Weak age restrictions

VR headsets vary in age requirements, but Oculus recommends theirs for kids 13 and up. However, this is precisely the age range that predators target for grooming. 

Studies show that children ages 12-15 are particularly vulnerable to predatory manipulation. [g]

Furthermore, children may lie about their age, and we know that predators frequently assume younger identities to target their victims.

Dangerous Game Features

Many VR games include built-in features that put our kids at risk, namely multiplayer and in-game chatting.

Multiplayer options


The most common types of MP games are:

  • Player vs. Player: Games focused on 1:1 competition
  • Co-op: Player and 1-3 teammates work together toward the same objective
  • Team MP: Games focused on team vs. team competition
  • Massive MP: Players compete individually or on a team in online servers
  • Asymmetrical MP: Local players can join a unified game across various types of devices

(Piorante, 2022)

Simply put, the MP option can be dangerous for children.

While entertaining, challenging, and fast-paced, gaming with others can allow kids to meet dozens of strangers online—which can lead to school struggles, violent behavior, or more serious mental health concerns.

In-game chats

Digital anonymity can encourage people to behave more aggressively than they would in person. [h]

As MP games are collaborative and competitive, they often come with chat features that might expose children to inappropriate language, toxic behaviors, bullying, and grooming. 

Some game chat systems keep it family-friendly by censoring and moderating users, but this is not always the case.

More than a third of children 8-17 played with people they didn’t know (36%); overall, 16% of 8-17s chatted to people they didn’t know via the messaging/chat functions in games.

—(Ofcom, 2022)


Hazardous Platform Features

Oculus also has inherent features that increase the risk for kids.

oculus app on a phone

Messenger

Because Oculus players can access Messenger with a Facebook login [i], kids can chat with those they have friended using text messages, voice calls, or video calls.

This could be dangerous if a child accepts Facebook friend requests from strangers—especially people they meet through VR.

They can chat while using the Oculus headset and then continue conversations on their phone through the Messenger app. To reduce risk, this option can be disabled. 

kids using virtual reality headsets with young girl taking hers off

Parties

Using this feature, adolescents can create virtual “parties” with fellow VR Facebook friends.

A party is basically a group voice call that allows anyone to create or continue a conversation while playing a game together. 

Parties can be private—with contacts you’re already friends with or public—open to anyone in VR.

The potential danger lies in private friends inviting other party guests your child doesn’t know or strangers joining a child’s party without an invitation. User settings determine how parties can be joined.[j]

20 Unsafe Games on Oculus

As discussed, three elements make certain VR games more dangerous than others—an online format, multiplayer capabilities, and chat options. 

The following list highlights available Oculus Quest 2 game titles that match this profile.

teen boy wearing hoodie looking at his phone

Can You Chat with Strangers on Oculus?

Despite being designed to elevate the player experience through strategizing with teammates, gaming chat systems have normalized talking to strangers online. [l]

This often occurs through direct messaging, phone conversations, digital party interactions, and speaking to strangers in real-time. 

Simply put, these features make it easier for predators to groom children by using abusive methods like establishing emotional connections or moving in-game chats to outside platforms.

Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to being groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online.

—Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center
happy family sitting on a couch looking at a phone

Solutions to Protect Kids: Safety Measures

Open Up & Set Boundaries
The best way to help kids stay aware of VR dangers is to talk to them. Help them set boundaries around technology. Explain the difference between online and offline friends—especially between friends and strangers. Keep conversations calm and without judgment to prevent kids from shutting down or refusing to discuss their problems. Play with them and consider setting the boundary that no one plays alone.
Practice Digital Courtesy
Encourage them to behave appropriately online, protect their privacy, and always treat others with respect. Teach them about cyberbullying—what it looks like, how to avoid it, and what to do if they see it.
Stop & Tell an Adult
Empower children to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. Show them how to block individuals who make them feel unsafe. Keep the lines of communication open so they will feel comfortable sharing their mistakes with trusted adults.
Online Grooming Signs
Observe your kids for signs of online grooming, such as increasing their internet use, being secretive about their online behavior, or refusing to discuss their online friends, to name a few.

Moving Safely Forward

Despite existing limitations, there are some things you can do right now to take care of your family while still enjoying the VR experience.

VR risks are abundant, but take heart! By understanding the platform, staying aware, and talking with our kids, parents can ensure a safer, more rewarding VR experience for everyone.

Shop the Phone that started it all.

The Gabb Phone Z2—no internet, no social media, and no worries.

SHOP PHONE

Don’t leave empty wrist-ed.

The Gabb Watch is perfect for kids on the go—find out why.

SHOP WATCH

You have already liked this article!

Share this article with...