Parenting In The Age Of Alexa, Are Artificial Intelligence Devices Safe For Kids? : Shots - Health News Talking to a device that talks back can be entertaining and educational for children. But psychologists say children can develop relationships with these devices that can be different than adults.
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Alexa, Are You Safe For My Kids?

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Alexa, Are You Safe For My Kids?

Alexa, Are You Safe For My Kids?

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All right, AI technology, as it's known, may have been created for adults, but it is super popular with kids.

ASA LOR-RODRIGUEZ: Alexa, play "Peanut Butter Jelly Time."


CHIP-MAN AND THE BUCKWHEAT BOYZ: It's peanut butter jelly time.

MARTIN: We're talking about personal assistant devices like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home. This happens in my house all the time. When kids figure these things out, they can't stop themselves from calling out orders. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports on ways that parents can help make the technology a positive influence.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Annabel Stowe (ph) is 4 years old. She likes to use Alexa to organize her grocery list.

ANNABEL STOWE: Alexa, add cauliflower to my shopping list.

DOUCLEFF: Then there's Asa Lor-Rodriguez (ph). He's 5, and he likes to ask Alexa lots and lots of questions.

ASA: Like this - Alexa, do you ever farted?

DOUCLEFF: Alexa, did you ever fart?

Amazon has sold more than 10 million Alexa devices in the past few years. And Rachel Severson, a child psychologist at the University of Montana, says these devices have the potential to be good educational tools. One family I talked to used it to track the Mars rover. But Severson says one problem she has is the way people interact with the devices.

RACHEL SEVERSON: You can yell at them, you know, I don't like that song, skip ahead or - you know, that you don't necessarily have to be polite.

DOUCLEFF: In fact, many people are pretty bossy with it. That might not seem like a big deal. I mean, it's just a computer, right?

SEVERSON: As an adult, you might be able to recognize, well, it doesn't really matter (laughter). It's just my Google Home. It's just my Echo device. Your kids - they may think it does matter.

DOUCLEFF: Because, Severson says, young kids see Alexa very differently than adults do. They may think she has feelings, or emotions or that there is actually a woman living inside that cylinder. Take Tennessee Emeric (ph). He's 4 and has grown up with Alexa.

TENNESSEE EMERIC: We have a small Alexa.

DOUCLEFF: Is she a person?

TENNESSEE: Yes, she is.

DOUCLEFF: Where does she sleep at night?

TENNESSEE: She sleeps at apartment building.

DOUCLEFF: Do you love her?


DOUCLEFF: So if a kid thinks Alexa is like a person and the child is learning how to interact with people by watching you, the parents, Severson says parents have to be careful how they treat Alexa.

SEVERSON: Recognizing that your kids, particularly young children, are really paying attention to you, as the parent, for cues on, how do I interact with it? How do we interact with others?

DOUCLEFF: So if you want your kids to say please and thank you, you probably need to say please and thank you to Alexa as well. And don't just passively watch kids talk with Alexa. Participate in the conversation or check in with a child after they use it. Solace Shen, a psychologist at Cornell University, says that will make interactions richer and more educational.

SOLACE SHEN: Talk to them about, hey, you know, what did you learn from Alexa today? What kind of things did you ask it?

DOUCLEFF: Because right now, there aren't very good parental controls on the devices, and kids really can ask any question they want. And finally, limit time with the device just like you do with screens.

SHEN: And make sure that there's balance between the time kids are interacting with the systems versus they're interacting with, you know, other, real humans or doing physical activities, and getting rest and all that stuff.

DOUCLEFF: Because, Shen says, kids really learn the best when they're talking to real people face-to-face. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.


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