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Virtual Parenting: Smart Speakers and Kids

Does your little one “ask Alexa” and say hi to Siri? If your kids love your smart speaker’s virtual assistant, they’re not alone. According to research, 73 percent of parents who have smart speakers say their kids use them too. Amazon even developed a children’s version of their Echo Dot in response to consumer demand. But do parents need to be concerned about the combo of smart speakers and kids? Or is the use of smart speakers beneficial for children? The truth is, we just don’t know.

What Happens When Kids Use Smart Speakers

Smart speakers featuring virtual assistants are becoming increasingly common in American homes. With this new technology comes some uncertainty about our kids’ interaction with these robot assistants. Some parents have wondered if they might be teaching their kids to be demanding and rude, leading Google and Amazon to add features that encourage politeness. Meanwhile, a few experts have suggested smart speakers might be disrupting children’s cognitive development. Still others say they actually help kids in a lot of ways, from assisting with language skills to reducing time spent staring at devices.

This technology is so new, we have no idea what effect it has on our kids. Perhaps the best move is for concerned parents is to consider the various theories about kids and smart speakers, and proceed with caution. Here are some of the theoretical benefits and concerns vis-á-vis kids’ use of in-home virtual assistants.

Smart Speakers and Kids: Potential Benefits

  • May help with communication skills. A study from the MIT Media Lab suggests kids who speak to virtual assistants might learn to speak more slowly and clearly.
  • Normalizes the technology. Since this technology isn’t going anywhere, some argue that it’s good to get kids comfortable with it now. Adopting the use of a virtual assistant now makes the technology familiar to kids.
  • Could replace screen time. A technology expert makes the case that smart speakers are a better, more interactive alternative to so many screens.

Smart Speakers and Kids: Potential Concerns

  • Privacy concerns. Experts warn that through interactions with in-home smart speakers, kids are providing insight into their preferences and lives that might be used to market to them in the future.
  • Enabling “robo parenting.” From homework help to bedtime stories, kids can ask virtual assistants to perform some tasks they might normally ask of their parents. Some worry that by handing this authority to the virtual assistant, parents might have a hard time commanding it back when necessary.
  • Inhibiting emotional development and creative initiative. Experts have expressed concern that interactions with virtual assistants come at the expense of kids’ social development. And by providing immediate gratification and constant entertainment, some wonder if kids will suffer from reduced creativity and increased dependence upon the technology.

So Now What?

For parents, the use of smart speakers can provide efficiencies we only dreamed of a few years ago. Research shows we regularly use them to make task lists, check our schedules, and search for info. And as more Americans install them in their homes, we’re only going to become more comfortable with this technology, and as a result likely more lax about allowing our kids access to it.  

If you decide you want a smart speaker, experts advise adjusting the settings and parental controls to do things like prevent kids from making purchases and accessing inappropriate content. Citing concerns about privacy, Common Sense Media suggests limiting user profiles to adults only so that smart speakers don’t collect specific data on your kids. 

And like screen time, maybe you put limits on the amount your kids use smart speakers. Have designated times when kids can use them and when they should be turned off. Don’t invite Alexa to dinner, for example.

Is your family in the market for a smart speaker? Do you have any concerns about your kids using the technology?

About the author

Parent Diviner

A bit quirky, I started blogging after successfully getting my son to eat by talking like a robot. I then transformed into said robot and have been writing about my parenting learnings ever since. Inspired by my infant daughter, imaginative toddler son and supportive husband, I document life as I know it: chaotic, coffee soaked and filled with awesomeness. In my spare time I enjoys fake shopping online, writing love letters to Ryan Gosling, and avoiding folding laundry.

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