Technology has changed our lives as parents. In the “old days” when a dinner table discussion led to a question none of the Priest family knew how to answer, we walked across the room to the multi volume Encyclopaedia Britannica to find out.
Now, we can simply ask Sirri — or Alexa — or Cortana and receive a robotic answer.
It can be a great help, but technology also poses dangers to kids and issues for parents, such as those unveiled in a recent survey of parents taken by commonsensemedia.org:
•Parents spend more than nine hours a day with screen media, and the vast majority of that time is spent with personal screen media — but is this being a good role model?
•78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children — but are these parents deceiving themselves?
•56 percent of parents are concerned about their children’s social media use and other online activities; they worry their children may become addicted to technology and believe its use negatively impacts sleep — but are they limiting their kids’ media use?
•67 percent of parents say monitoring their children’s media use is more important than respecting their privacy — but how and where do you draw the line?
In a March 2 Washington Post article entitled “How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants,” columnist Michael S. Rosenwald asks us to consider the pros and cons of technology, especially the use of “virtual assistants.” He quotes Kate Darling, an MIT professor who studies how humans interact with robots: “There can be a lot of unintended consequences to interactions with these devices … and we don’t know what all of them are yet.”
So what should parents do?
1. Monitor your own use of technology and how you interact with virtual assistants. Set limits on yourself, as well as your children. Actual conversations with people and reading actual books is an important part of your child’s learning experience and needs to be balanced with the use of technology.
2. Don’t allow your children to speak rudely to virtual assistants — or anyone. Some parents report that the virtual assistant phenomena has inadvertently taught their kids it’s fine to issue demanding commands and speak rudely when you want something. Mattel is working on an assistant named Aristotle that will “grow” with your child and require them to say “please” before getting information, so maybe that will help a little.
3. Respect your kids’ privacy — but not without some monitoring. Don’t allow a misguided notion of constitutional rights undermine your responsibility to stay alert to what’s going on in your child’s life. If you know your kid is misusing technology, posting sexy selfies or bullying someone (or being bullied), speak up and take action. Don’t be a passive parent.
Technology can, in some ways, make parenting easier. But it also has the potential to make parents passive. Parents who don’t engage in this area will live to regret their passivity. Wake up and pay attention to what technology is doing to, and for, your children.