Children in Virtual World - Emerging Concerns to Watch Out
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What is a Virtual World?
A virtual world can be understood as a computer-simulated environment that provides a real-time experience to its user and is integrated by communities of people, objects even locations. The world is unique in itself and mimics the real world and materializes the fantasies (like people flying,). An example of a virtual world may look like an online community that can interact with each other within this world and accomplishes goals set by the software. The human representation is by avatars. Depending on the application, various communication tools are used which include voice or text-based media. These channels are used by avatars to connect and share their native world.
It goes without saying that such a world that is so familiar but distinct provides opportunities for the human experience that people may hinge in this world. People who are spending large amounts of time here become inhabitants of the virtual world which distorts their expectations of the real world, especially common among children.
Why Do Children or Adolescents Indulge in The Virtual World?
Today’s children and adolescents are born in a world led by technology and rightfully can be described as digital natives. But when we come to think about it, what makes children not only use this world but also cling to it?
Identity: It is during adolescence that children start to develop an identity about themselves by integrating their views from the environment about themselves. At this time adolescents begin to question their sense of self, become concerned with others’ expectations, and search for affirmation from their friends, peer groups, and significant others. Therefore, we may find the entire group circle being a part of the same virtual world. This world also allows adolescents to experiment with their identity with the representation of their avatar (which can be more fashionable, have a different ethnicity, or have a different body type or complexion).
Imagination: Young children who have a very active imagination may resort to virtual life which allows them to have wings. Achieving goals that may not be possible in the real world. It widens the spectrum of their imagination by fighting monsters, flying rescuing people, and being a hero.
Freedom: With the advent of the pandemic children found themselves to be confined and required the freedom that the real world restricted. Thus, more frequent flights in the virtual world were noticed which provided freedom of space and gives them a sense of freedom and having their own space.
Social Interaction: As real-time interaction decreases the virtual interaction increase. Children have the liberty to make friends of their choice and join communities of their interest.
Problem-free World: Children and adolescents take frequent flights to engage in a world that does not remind them of their real stressors. Children struggling with day-to-day life stressors resort to it because they can fulfill the tasks of the game and feel accomplished and worthy; which seems like an impossible task in the real life. Young people may not have developed adaptive coping and thus involve in it as a short-term pleasure and an escape.
Emerging Concerns Of The Digital Use
Persistent use of virtual reality distances people physically and leads them to be scared, apprehensive, and pensive about interacting in real life because of the fear of judgment and develop a tendency to completely evade social meetings.
Adolescents may be tempted to withdraw from that life phase’s sometimes turbulent relationships and escape online. relationships or online distractions. It is interesting to note that youths who are troubled tend to develop virtual relationships more frequently than youths who are not as indicated in the article by Bremer, Jennifer, 2005.
Improper use of technology, lack of privacy and knowledge, sharing too much information, or posting false information about themselves or others may put them at risk of cyber fraud. Digital footprints may invite predators as well.
It’s a well-known fact that increased screen time disrupts physical activity, sleep, and appetite and affects the overall quality of life. A study by Falbe et al. in 2015 reported that evening and nighttime exposure to bright light and blue light emitted by self-luminous devices may suppress melatonin production, affect the timing of melatonin production, and consequently cause circadian disruption.
As we know, what we see is what we learn. The type of content available may affect the development of the child or adolescent which means, an unwarranted exposure to aggressive, sexual, or violent content may affect how their personality develops.
Major physical problems like obesity, and vision is common with overindulgence with screens.
Depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and suicidal behavior have been linked to the use of the virtual world and over-indulgence in it.
Children today are growing up in an era of highly advanced digital use and individualized experiences; therefore, parents must develop personalized Family digital Use Plans for their families to supervise and tailor the use of digital use in their homes according to each child’s age, health, temperament, and developmental stage. Parents should identify their roles in being models to children and present a balanced use of media along with other activities.