Any owner of a smart speaker in their home may be taking for granted how integrated their system is into their family's lives. Especially for a small child growing up with a smart speaker who has never known any different. As you bark orders at Alexa your smallest household members may come to believe that these interactions mean that your smart speaker is as much a family member as they are.
These types of exchanges between smart speakers and kids have sparked the interest of scientists and caused them to conduct research to find out just what kids think about them. Common Sense recently released a report that shows that approximately 40% of kids between the ages of 2 and 8 live in households that have smart speakers in them. About 32% of these kids talk to their smart speaker on their own and about 6% of these homes say that their kids talk to the smart speaker on a regular basis, multiple times throughout the day.
Kids are no strangers to stretching their imaginations and the same way that you might find them having a casual conversation with their stuffed animal, you may also find them trying to have a similar conversation with the smart speaker. The concern with smart speakers, however, is that they respond back. Unlike a toy where you pull the string and get 4 or 5 programmed responses, these smart speakers listen to the actual question that you ask and they respond back with an appropriate answer. This can blur the lines of imagination with kids and cause them to believe that these devices are real people.
The companies that make these smart devices are catching on to this phenomenon just as quickly as researches and are using it to make profits. This may seem harmless, but with the confusion that already exists about these devices, marketing them to kids as companions or friends may prove even more confusing, especially in a world where communicating directly with a person has in many ways been replaced by electronic forms of communication.
This doesn't mean that you should trash your Alexa, just that as a parent, you have to be more mindful around how you use it. Experts who have studied this matter advise parents to set boundaries for the whole family around times that it's okay to use the speaker so that it's not being overused.
Experts also advise that parents talk to their kids about what these devices are and how they work. Finally, Rachel Severson, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Montana reminds parents that the smart speaker should not be a replacement for toys. play and other interactions with actual human beings and to be mindful of the things that you're outsourcing to your smart speaker.
If there's a time that you can sing your child's favorite nursery rhyme or read their favorite book, think very carefully before asking your smart speaker to do it for you.