Metaverse blurs child worlds

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist

The cyber space world of the metaverse has the potential to blur the distinction between fact and fiction, reality and unreality, and virtual and physical reality. The promise of the metaverse world may bring upon parents these unique challenges. How do we help our children distinguish between the realities of virtual and physical existence? Are we paranoid? Or, why should we bother?

Does Metaverse Blur Fact and Fiction

Does the metaverse that exists in the realm of cyber space blur the distinction between what is fact and fiction in the world of a child? We shall see. Even though prominent researchers from the University of Virginia and the University of Texas- Austin found that toddlers as young as four, have already learned to “use the context in which new information is presented to distinguish between fact and fiction,” the dangers of healthy child development remain to be examined critically.

For instance, the researchers used methodologies such that they offered a dichotomous choice presenting statements predicated on a scientific term and statements based upon fantastical terms. An example from the research study follows.

  • Doctors use hercs to make medicine, or
  • Fairies use hercs to make fairy dust.

In the example above, children between the ages of three to six years were more likely to believe words represented real things in the physical world when the researchers sprinkled the statement with scientific terms than when they were presented with words that were derived from fantasy land. Please see the November/December issue of Child Development for further information.

The Metaverse and Science

The problem with the wholesale acceptance of studies with the potential to affirm that the metaverse poses little threat or harm to children is dangerous. Why? Perhaps the main value that scientific discourse provides to a community is its ability to convince others of the truth based upon careful logic, reasoning or argumentation.

As we have seen with the most recent events: lax or harsh legal and criminal enforcement of laws depending upon the political views of the alleged perpetrator, the scarcity or censoring of scientific data for which to make, base and implement sound policies around a health epidemic, nuanced theories utilized to lower educational standards for some ethnic, racial groups, and the gradation of formerly two genders to several with fluid interpretations depending upon the time, place and situation. But I digress.

As an educational psychologist with expertise in behavioral psychology, I won’t take a stance or make an opinion. Rather my purpose is to present the data (statistics and/or research) for you to draw your own conclusion to make your own informed opinion.

Metaverse and Dangers of Blurring Reality

Failing proper oversight and controls, it has already been shown by many in the field of child development that social media has generated a host of problems for adolescent users of social media, online services and products. Experiences of cyber bullying and harassment are just a few of the acts some children endure on a moment-by-moment basis. Some kids think nothing of sending, posting, or sharing negative images or texts to others in the virtual reality world, for the purpose of exacting pain and harm to be experienced in the physical world.

Reading harmful, false, or mean content on the internet about yourself daily that has been posted on social media channels and discussed by your peers ad nauseum in your physical world (home, work and school) has been shown to cause body image insecurities, lowered self esteem, and even suicide. Incidentally, these dangers were just a few of the consequences of excessive child use of social media tools prior to the introduction of the metaverse.

Lacking accountability, oversight and controls, what we are encroaching upon, I am afraid, is the blurring of physical and virtual realities that were formerly etched in stone by the acceptance of hard, immutable scientific facts. With the introduction, adoption and potential for excessive and addictive use; it is highly probably that the negative consequences will only worsen. Particularly for adolescents who are just beginning to develop their own self identities.

Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com