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Children, Young People and The Metaverse

Navigating Reality in 2033: How Parents Can Answer When Their Child Asks, ‘Is the Metaverse Real?’


Children, Young People and the Metaverse

This section is reproduced here with the permission of the author.


Technology is a part of the everyday lives of children and young people (CYP), influenced by parents, educators and many other social interactions (Tootell et al., 2017). As the next evolution of technology, the Metaverse, develops, the early-stage activations are attractive and seemingly designed to engage with younger generations such as Z and/or Alpha (Dalot, 2018).

Indeed, technology firms are jumping on the metaverse trend — Nvidia Omniverse, Meta Horizon, Fortnite (Epic Games) and Roblox to name a few (Kim, 2021) highlighting opportunities and efforts to gain increased engagement with younger generations. Brand activations are often aimed to engage in fun, entertaining ways; Oreo introduced “Oreoverse” an Oreo-themed world of games and cookies on Meta Horizons (Baar, 2023), Nike built ‘Airtopia’, a kids’ world in the metaverse, recently, children fashion brand Balabala announced its entry into the metaverse, creating a hyper-realistic digital brand ambassador named ‘Rainy’, other kids’ brands, including Hasbro and Mattel, have also announced their Metaverse strategies (Shaikh, 2022) as have Lego and Disney (Solis & Danise, 2022). It’s all fun and games, but there are huge trust issues when it comes to technology companies and children (Restuccia & Tracy, 2023). England’s Commissioner for Children made a series of worrying discoveries during the course of their research, making clear the urgent need to protect children from harms online (Children’s Commissioner for England, 2022). Not only did the commissioner find that it is “quite likely” for eight year olds to come across pornography online, but also learned of the “insidious” violent content that CYP are confronted within current digital environments (Turner et al., 2022).

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — UNICEF UK, 1992) has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to;

  • the right to relax and play (Article 31)
  • the right to freedom of expression (Article 13)
  • the right to be safe from violence (Article 19)

In the context of the Metaverse and its vision of convergence of the physical and digital (Li et al., 2022) and its cumulative impact on CYP’s futures; their relationships, education, careers, hopes, dreams, aspirations and how they see their life unfolding — considerate methods of the Metaverse and its integration into the lives of CYP is vital and urgent.


The Metaverse is a perpetual and persistent multi-user environment that combines physical reality and digital virtuality. It is based on the convergence of technologies, such as Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Augmented Reality (AR), Digital Twin, and Blockchain, that enable multisensory interactions with digital objects, virtual environments, and people (Mourtzis et al., 2022). The components of the Metaverse, particularly virtual reality (VR) progressively extend CYP’s view of physical reality, for instance by altering their identity and digital appearance via avatars; by immersing them into synthetic environments to engage with other humans; or, in the future, by generating a sense of touch within their brain when they interact with a digital object (Hilken et al., 2017). These new technological components that comprise the metaverse offer an opportunity for CYP to engage in networked environments that can accommodate compelling synthetic virtual engagements offering viscerally heightened experiences, authentic content and social meaning (Park & Kim, 2022).

For example, evidence suggests that VR experiences can lead to positive social and psychological outcomes (Markowitz & Bailenson, 2023) and deepening learning of societal issues (Markowitz et al., 2018) and building empathy (Herrera et al., 2018). Furthermore, research shows that VR provides high fidelity sensory information and that the brain often treats a virtual experience in a similar manner to a real experience (Blascovich et al., 2002).

Technology developers have identified that success will depend on the acceptance that the virtual and physical are sensorily similar and that the metaverse thus represents a genuine reality in which users can socialise, work, and play (Golf-Papez et al., 2022). In other words, to be compelling, the metaverse will need to suspend the disbelief and abandon the notion that synthetic experiences are inherently “false” to prevent discounting the value of a technology-enhanced reality (Hilken et al., 2017). While digital experiences can be psychologically real to the person immersed in the metaverse (Wolfendale, 2007), it is often discounted by outside observers because no activity takes place in the physical world. Such discounting stems from traditional views of falsity, which assume that only physical experiences (i.e., those derived using unaided biological senses like sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) are real (Ross & Ward, 1996) and that synthetic, digital forms of experience are imaginary, inconsequential and are not real.

Problems lie ahead if we underestimate the psychological impact of the convergence of physical and virtual worlds while the lines between are increasingly blurred as fidelity improves (Heller, 2020). For CYP, the problem with the traditional perspective of falsity is that it denies the authentic sense stimulation created by immersion, presence and embodiment (Park & Kim, 2022) in the multi-sensory synthetic metaverse. CYP who adopt an alternate identity using an avatar (e.g., to become a superhero-like character instead of their usual physical self) likely integrate the qualities of this avatar into their persona and use those qualities to achieve goals and objectives in the metaverse otherwise not possible in physical reality. The potential attachment to metaverse experiences and interactions as it can be felt as very real and it holds value to CYP as it is expressive of self-identity and self-conception and should therefore be accorded the moral significance we give to real-life attachments that play a similar role (Wolfendale, 2007).

I put forth that to naively underestimate this alternative persona for the child or young person along with its related goals and objectives of human interaction, connection and communication as false, fails to appreciate the implications on psychological and developmental areas of concern, wherein digital relationships acquire meaning from child’s perspective. Therefore the traditional view of falsity of the digital realm is inherently problematic.

Empowering CYP in the Metaverse

A more nuanced perspective on falsity, for stakeholders including educators, parents/caregivers and regulators, is one that acknowledges that metaverse experiences will be felt, fully immersed present and embodied and that this immersion will deliver an experience that is equal in value to the physical experience.

The continuation of the illusion of falsity will support the continued disassociation and online harms and deviance experienced by CYP in the current state of the internet.

Alarmingly the CC-Driver 2021 report, which is one of the largest studies to date exploring youth cyber criminality and is informed by 5 key disciplines: cyberpsychology, criminology, psychology, neuroscience, and digital anthropology, demonstrates and confirms what is widely known, that young people are immersed in technology and our approach to supporting CYP with their relationship to and within technology needs to shift e.g. 47.76% of CYP report to have engaged in a behaviour that could be considered criminal and offensive when online (Davidson, et al., 2022). Research shows that adolescents participate in cyberdeviance, risky or harmful behaviours and cyber crime — 1 in 2 respondents (children) watch pornography online, 1 in 5 participate in sexting, 1 in 7 have self-generated sexual images and are participating in cybercrimes such as online harassment, cyberbullying, revenge porn, identify theft and racist/xenophobic speech (Davidson, et al., 2022).

Furthermore, the anatomical, physiological, and developmental changes which arise as children mature through childhood and adolescence support the need to develop new technologies that meet the specific requirements of CYP. Failing to involve CYP during the development of technology increases the risk that the outcome falls short of their expectations and needs, leading to rejection of novel interventions (Wheeler et al., 2022). The traditional view of falsity of digital interactions fails to recognize its potential to empower CYP and to unlock unique opportunities for value creation in the metaverse while building bridges between the physical and digital worlds to support CYP to create healthy relationships with and within technology.


The metaverse is upon us. It is presented as the biggest opportunity for modern business since the creation of the internet (Charlton, 2022). Soon it will be as omnipresent, for CYP, as TikTok, Instagram, and Meta (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2022). CYP will form friendships, develop relationships, play, learn, explore, be creative and essentially grow up with the Metaverse. Childhood has long been identified as a key transitional developmental period and it is imperative to develop an understanding of how the medium of the Metaverse impacts CYP’s psychological and physiological development.

It is essential that future research and resulting products that are delivered into the hands of CYP focus on better understanding the benefits and limitations of Metaverse technology components to ensure that the technology is fit for purpose, and does more good than harm.

Created by DALL-E with prompt “create an image of a young child, of 8 years old, asks her mother “Is the metaverse real?”

To answer this, I suggest that we reconsider the acceptance of digital falsity. It is vital that we map out a future where we develop responsible strategies to support the long term development and psychological well being of CYP as they are raised with the metaverse.


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