Virtual reality—it’s going to support more than just super awesome gaming (though VR gaming is, indeed, going to be crazy super awesome). Developers are feverishly trying to figure out practical, real-world uses for it as well. For example, the NFL is already going to use it to help train their quarterbacks, and students around the world may be able to attend and participate in classes together. But what about parenting?
I’ve come up with three ways that virtual reality could help us out as parents.
1. Helping parenting prep classes get real
With virtual reality, soon-to-be-parents will get to go beyond the classroom and experience difficult parenting problems in real time. For example, you can put a virtual baby in a woman’s arms and then make it virtually projectile vomit in her virtual face. If she gives in to her instinct to block the puke, she drops the baby. That’s game over. But after a few dozen run-throughs, she will learn to suppress that instinct and accept that vomit in her face is her lot in life, as real parents do.
What about swaddling? Sure, learning how to do it on baby dolls is fine, but what about a virtual baby that squirms around, kicks you in the nose, and then pees mid-swaddle? Now that’s some parenting prep.
And how about some of those day-to-day parenting annoyances that no one tells you about? In virtual reality, you can take your newborn on errands—go to a virtual Target and try to get everything on your to do list before your baby does something terrible (and he will), experience the frustration of trying to open a door while carrying a car seat, and try to negotiate a stroller obstacle course filled with bumpy sidewalks, sidewalks without curb cuts, and strangers who want to talk to you about breastfeeding and whether you delivered vaginally. Oh, and you forgot extra diapers.
2. Letting you practice parenting in pretend land
In the future, choking someone in virtual therapy will be considered a victimless crime. This will come in handy in virtual parenting classes, where you and your virtual child try to work out a variety of issues.
Practice getting your preschooler out the door in the morning! Will you find their shoes in time? Will they be the blue shoes? And what about their favorite stuffed animal—the one that is two inches tall and could be anywhere? Work against the clock and your desire to pull out every single piece of your hair and see if you can succeed in less than 45 minutes.
Taking your child to a major airport for the first time? Go inside a virtual airport where your job is to track a moving target—your child—amidst all the hustle and bustle. It’s like “Where’s Waldo” if your child was named Waldo. What a great way to get those reflexes up to par before your trip.
What about solving arguments between siblings? Have your virtual duo duke it out over such classics as, “He was looking at me,” “She stared out of the window on my side of the car,” and “He punched me in the head when we were playing Punch Me In The Head.” The most points go to those who can get them playing together quietly, but you still pass if both children are in time-out for the next five hours.
3. Teaching your kids to say no to strangers and to peer pressure
Did you see that Dateline from many years ago where they had an actor lead an entire group of young kids out of a playground because he told them he needed help finding his puppy? Let’s get some scenarios going in a virtual park: an old man who wants your child to help him eat all of the chocolate bars in the back of his van, a nice young woman who would really appreciate it if your child could give her his mom’s credit card so she get buy medicine for her sick cat—you get the picture.
This would also be helpful for the parents of teens who are worried about their kid’s ability to withstand peer pressure. Get them into a virtual party and offer them some heroin. What will they say? Get a virtual version of one of those One Direction boys to ask your daughter if she wants to see the new sheets his mom bought for his bed. If she goes to his room, guess who’s going to be standing there, waiting? Virtual you. Check. Mate.
Come on virtual-reality people, make this happen for us. Because the children are our future, and so are virtual-reality pecan pies. I hope.