Beneficial and risky: A look at augmented reality for children

Augmented reality offers education and interactivity but also risks.

Beneficial and risky: A look at augmented reality for children

Instagram filters, games like Pokemon GO and certain learning apps. These are all examples of augmented reality (AR), which is increasingly entering the fields of entertainment and education. This technology offers several interactive elements that develop children’s creativity and imagination, but it also has negatives. What should you know before downloading an app for your little one?

What are the main benefits of augmented reality for kids?

1) Increased creativity and imagination

Augmented reality opens the door to fantasies. With AR, you can see what historic buildings looked like 100 years ago or start drawing objects that you can’t imagine in your head – as in the case of SketchAR. This app places virtual images on paper, a wall or canvas and then lets you trace the line of a hologram from your mobile phone or tablet. With the help of artificial intelligence, SketchAR becomes your assistant that helps to figure out how to draw a specific object. 

Another example of the positive effects of augmented reality can be found in an app called Narrator AR. This application encourages children ages 3 to 5 to write words and letters with a pen and paper. The app then lets them see their writing levitate in space, which is both fun and a tool for developing their handwriting. 

2) Better learning and practice

The great thing about augmented reality is that you can practice your newly acquired skills and knowledge right away. One example is the Arloon Plant app, which lets children explore interactive plants to learn about their structure and parts. They can even watch a plant grow and move in an AR experience. Another app, Moon Phases AR, uses 3D visual imagery of the Sun, Earth and Moon to help kids identify different moon phases. It also illustrates why these vary based on location relative to Earth and the Sun. Both apps are great examples of how AR can reinforce knowledge and make learning more practical.

3) Social interaction 

AR apps are often designed to get people out of their houses to interact with other users. Pokemon GO is a good example. It helps bring people with the same interests together in person, not just online. The same applies to educational apps teaching children how to collaborate with fellow students and increase interactivity via new learning tools. 

What risks are connected to AR?

1) Information overload 

Uncontrolled usage of mobile devices can lead to stress, indecisiveness and inaction. The massive amounts of information provided by AR can result in signs of inattention, impulsivity and poor short-term memory. Another risk lies in the assistance function that some applications may have. “If you don’t train your brain and do not need to remember much, you are slowly losing skills. This can happen with AR as well,” explains ESET Security Awareness Specialist Ondrej Kubovič. 

He recommends that parents limit children’s time playing games or using AR and other apps. “For example, try to agree with your children that they will spend as much time playing games as they spend learning offline.” 

2) Negative effects on physical health

Because augmented reality technology is addictive, with players captive to the game for numerous hours, there are some health issues to be addressed. According to Crysberry, the overuse of mobile devices increases the risk of developing issues with fine motor skills and, in turn, handwriting skills due to less exposure to traditional play activities, such as blocks, play dough, arts and crafts and dressing dolls. 

3) Privacy disruption

Crysberry also warns that AR apps must collect data due to the principles of how the technology works. “AR devices work by capturing and analyzing the real-world environment and then adding extra information over it. The data is gathered not only from the users of AR devices, but from the people the devices observe through cameras. This can definitely affect people’s privacy.” 

When an AR game leads you astray

The most significant danger with augmented reality games occurs when people play outside without paying attention to what is happening around them. Pokemon GO is still one of the most popular games of this type. 

“There’s even a Pokémon GO Tracker page that shows how many injuries or deaths have occurred while playing the game so far,” Kubovič said. “Although the injuries were caused by other people in some cases, the page demonstrates the importance of defining a game corridor and being careful in general.” 

Obviously, this is a prime consideration for children of any age.

What to think about when downloading apps

According to ESET Security Awareness Specialist Ondrej Kubovič, you must always pay attention to the application’s terms and conditions and its security settings. This is primarily about granting access to various functions and information on the child’s phone. “Previously, it was common for apps not to allow the selection of photos and ask for access to the entire gallery. Nowadays, some phones have a feature that enables the app user to choose what they want to share and what they do not.” 

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