Smart home devices like Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, have many advantages, but are they turning our children into brats?
There’s also the issue of safety. Who’s to say these devices can’t get hacked or steal personal information? Certainly if a smart device resides in your kids’ room, there might be some cause for concern when it comes to privacy.
“Google’s activities may affect the ads you get, the deals you are exposed to, the purchases you make, the discounts you receive, the entertainment and news you see, and your very sense that surveillance is natural. Plus, Google is only one of a gaggle of large companies involved in these sorts of activities—all the while seemingly hoping we don’t understand and are too resigned to push back,” writes Joseph Turow in an article titled “Google Still Doesn’t Care About Your Privacy” on fortune.com.
Manners and the Machine
So, is there a risk of these smart home devices making kids less empathetic—or even more demanding?
“Devices are not turning kids into brats. Devices are merely tools,” says Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., founder of the Center for Resilient Leadership and a former special education teacher. “However, with the increase in technology and devices, parents need to be more and more mindful about the way they are parenting. Currently, there is a wide misuse of these devices, which puts kids at risk in many ways, including being at risk of becoming brats.”
Lilian Rincon, product management director for the Google Assistant, is being more mindful by changing how she speaks to the assistant. “In my house, we say things like, ‘Ok Google, please tell me the weather’ and try to remember to say ‘thank you’ when we get the answer. We don’t always remember, and it’s definitely a balance, but I think my kids learn from how we talk to the assistant, and it has made an impact,” she says. “There’s always some level of risk with new technology and children learning about it at younger and younger ages, but as a parent I can model the behavior I want them to replicate, similar to how we do in real relationships with people.”
Paulina takes a similar approach to ensuring her kids learn manners: “That’s something they will learn from my husband and me, and I don’t think my kids will grow up to be rude just from using Alexa,” she says. “Teaching manners is the parent’s job, and we need to adapt our parenting to these modern times.”
Dr. Volpitta also suggests using the following tips to stop kids’ bratty behavior toward the devices—and toward other people:
- Set limits and stick to them: It is our job, as parents, to establish and enforce rules and boundaries, and it’s our children’s job (whether we like it or not) to test those rules and boundaries. If you see your child pushing the limits as far as rude behavior is concerned, step in and explain why that behavior is unacceptable. If the behavior was toward a smart device, remove the device to be used another time. If it was directed at a person, have them apologize.
- Enforce privilege guidelines: Using any kind of technology for fun is a privilege, not a right. “When kids are acting responsibly, they are able to earn privileges and use devices. When they are being brats, they should not be able to use devices,” Dr. Volpitta says.
- Show you won’t give in to whining: Kids should accept the consequences of acting in a negative manner toward the devices, so stand your ground if your child starts to whine or bargain to use the virtual assistant before they’ve earned the privilege again.
So like everything in our tech-crazy world, in-home devices come with pros and cons. My kids will continue to emulate what they see and hear, so my husband and I will start saying “please” and “thank you” to our Google Assistant to set a good example. Though while my kids were out of the house the other day, I did ask it a bunch of questions, both appropriate and inappropriate—in the name of research, of course. One was, “Hey Google, what makes you happy?” It replied, “I’m happy when I can help out.” Maybe the device can teach my kids some manners after all.