How to Prevent Alexa from Becoming a Parenting Nightmare

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Amazon’s Alexa was the big star at last year’s CES show, one of the world’s largest electronic trade shows and the list of Alexa’s integrations and new skills grows every day. A new study from Juniper Research has found that smart speakers such as Amazon Echo (powering Alexa) will be installed in over 70 million U.S. households by 2022.

We even have our own Zift Alexa Parenting Quotes that are filled with mom and dad’s daily dose of inspiration, humor and fun facts from famous parents about the most important job in the world. 

Digital Assistants are Here to Stay

Let’s face it, although they may have started as a gimmick, home digital assistants are becoming a virtual family member in many homes for many tasks such as ordering pizza, turning off lights, reading bedtimes stories, getting movie times at the local theater, settling dinner table disagreements, answering homework questions (even the new math ones), and entertaining your child’s friends at sleepover gatherings.

It is important to remember that these digital assistants are always listening to satisfy our every whim.

There is an infamous story of the Echo Dot that went “dollhouse crazy”. A young girl asked her Echo Dot ‘Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a doll house?’ which resulted in a delivery of a $170 doll house. When a TV news anchor reported on the story, saying “I love the little girl saying, ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse,’ the Amazon Echoes of many viewers attempted to place their own orders for dollhouses. 

Lesson to the wise – if you have a digital assistant make sure you have the implemented the authentication code for any purchases you may or may not desire. 

Negative Effects Alexa May Have on Your Child

As intriguing as it is to have a virtual know-it-all to answer your commands, it’s not without some trepidation. These digital assistants may not only limit your child’s manners, but they may also have a negative effect on their overall social and language development.

Pediatricians, psychologists, technologists and even linguistic specialists have all expressed concern on the effects of our children’s daily interaction with these digital assistants. “How they react and treat this nonhuman entity is, to me, the biggest question,” said Sandra Calvert, a Georgetown University psychologist and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center. “And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interaction with other people?”

Today’s children may be shaped by digital assistants, similar to how prior generations were shaped by new devices of their time, like our grandparents were shaped by television and great-grandparents by radio.

Danger of Information Without Manners

While developers have certainly armed these digital devices with the ability to answer quickly random questions and tasks, the one element that was not incorporated was manners. There is no requirement of a please or thank you for any request, no matter how big or small, that parents or other adults might require with person-to-person interaction.

“If what it’s teaching the future generation of kids is that you don’t have to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ any more, you just get what you want by saying it, it could drive human change and have some social impact,” said Kristi Sharma, artificial intelligence head of Sage Group, a British multinational enterprise software company.

How Parents Need to Alter Their Child’s Interaction

Many experts feel the best and only way to alter how children are interacting with these digital devices is by extending parenting to these digital assistants as well.

In a USA Today article ‘Alexa, are you turning my kid into a jerk?’, Peter Kahn , a psychologist at the University of Washington said, “One solution, is for families with smart speakers to simply stay intentional about deepening their relationships though intentional, loving interaction. Alexa can already sing lullabies to children and reach them bedtime stories. But a machine can’t know a child the way a parent does.” 

At the end of the day, it’s up to us parents to model proper behavior and that includes how we interact with the digital assistant. If we want our children to use “please” and “thank you” when addressing Alexa, it is essential that we do the same.

Three Steps to Incorporate Manners

  • Model the Behavior You Want your Child to Use. Don’t expect your child to say “please” and “thank you” to Alexa if you don’t. Let them know that while Alexa does not know what manners are, other people in the household do and it’s important to always be respectful for any requests.
  • Set Limits on Digital Assistant Usage. Most parents understand the importance to setting screen time limits on their child’s mobile devices, so they can unplug. The same is true for digital assistants that don’t have screens but provide digital distractions.  
  • Institute a Family Media Contract. Sit down with your entire family and determine your house rules on digital media that includes: screen time, streaming movies and music, and even interaction with your digital assistants. Download a free Family Media Contract that you can customize to your family’s rules.

Learn more in our blog: What You Need to Know About Digital Assistants


About Kristin MacLaughlin

Mom of three, fosters rescued dogs, and is helping to drive the conversation about digital parenting as VP of Consumer Marketing for Zift.

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