Virtual assistants are programmed to delivers with no ‘please’ and no ‘thank you’, so what bad habits are our kids picking up?
It’s best for new parents to make their peace early with the fact that as new technology comes into common use, their offspring will take to it like ducks to water, while they themselves will be left frowning confusedly at it like ducks reading Camus.
But there’s more danger for parents these days than simply feeling old and ignorant: there’s the danger that the gadgets they bring into their home could make their kids into … well, jerks.
The danger will be familiar for anyone who has felt the chill run down their spine when their toddler cries out, “Hey Google, play Paw Patrol!” or “Alexa, ‘Baby Shark’!”
Yes, the relentless march of human ingenuity has put a range of entertainments at your child’s command, and it can quickly make your life hell.
The thing about little children is, they are very much into instant gratification, and part of the parenting process is teaching them that instant gratification isn’t really something that we can expect all the time.
However, part of the purpose of Alexa and Siri and Google Home et al is to teach its users that instant gratification is their birthright.
These devices do not say no, they do not make you wait, and they don’t expect you to say please or thank you.
What’s the point of teaching your tot that they’re not getting what they want unless they use their manners, when Siri is teaching them that manners just slow things down?What’s the point of telling them “that’s enough Barbie: Life In The Dream House for today” when they can just demand Google put it back on as soon as you leave the room?
It’s like inviting another parent into your home: one that doesn’t mind being treated like a doormat and will, undoubtedly, end up being thought of as “the cool parent”.
Indeed, there is a real risk of your child ending up seeing their devices as people.
For one thing, when, say, an Amazon Echo “mishears” a song request, and plays the wrong thing, an entitled child can be driven into a rage, hurling abuse at the hapless machine, which will just sit there and take it (unlike the kids at kinder, who are unlikely to respond so passively if your littlie explodes at them).
Of course, you can teach your kids to treat devices more politely, but that’ll just cause further problems: politeness is for human beings, and it’s always a good idea to raise children to recognise the difference between human beings and voice-activated smart devices.
It’s always disturbing when your child professes to prefer Siri’s company to any actual person of their acquaintance.
“The danger will be familiar for anyone who has felt the chill run down their spine when their toddler cries out, ‘Hey Google, play Paw Patrol!’ or ‘Alexa, Baby Shark!'”
So what are we doing here? Are we raising a generation of abusive, over-entitled, socially maladjusted weirdos unable to distinguish between human and machine?
Well, maybe that’s slightly alarmist.
In a way this is a problem that echoes those of previous generations: just as watching too much TV was going to rot kids’ brains, or rock music was going to corrupt kids’ morals, now servile devices are going to turn kids into arses.
Parents will never stop worrying that what their children are exposed to will ruin them — I myself can’t shake the feeling that the YouTubers my kids love are completely destroying their taste in comedy.
It’s a worry you don’t want to overblow, but it’s a worry nonetheless.
The problem is that these modern technological marvels, like TV in previous years, are just so damn convenient.
Finding something to distract a child is a godsend for any parent, and the fact that the devices are not only entertaining, but interactive, makes the distraction even more effective.
It’s entertainment system, servant and friend all in one, and what child wouldn’t love that? And what parent wouldn’t love the fact their child loves that and will therefore leave them alone for a precious hour?
Well, we’re just going to have to be vigilant. We’re going to have to limit their device time. We’re going to have to occasionally put our feet down and unplug the insidious little things, or put the iPad on a high shelf.
And we’re going to have to make sure that, despite how easy and fun it is to avoid all contact with the outside world nowadays, every now and then the toddler gets out and interacts with real people.
That, and the odd short, sharp correction when they stray into jerk territory, should help manage the issue.
Or you could give up the devices altogether and teach your kids to entertain themselves the old-fashioned way — with a remote control.
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