In last week’s post I discussed how digital assistants, like Alexa, can help things run more smoothly at home when you have a child with ADHD. Digital assistants are developing rapidly, and already come with an impressive array of features and functions. Yet, as with all emerging technologies, parents should be on the lookout for unintended consequences that might crop up once they and their children start using the devices. With screen-free digital assistants, many of the pitfalls that come with tablet and phone-based technology are avoided. On the other hand, the language and style of speaking that we use to communicate with Alexa doesn’t match up with the way we talk with our partners, coworkers, and children. As adults, we can easily distinguish between a style of speech used with technology and a style of speech used with the people in our lives, but for young children and children of all ages who struggle with social interactions, this differentiation may not be intuitive.
Across the board, kids attribute human thoughts, feelings, and intentions to inanimate objects. It’s completely normal for them to think that their stuffed bear may feel lonely if he is left alone all day, or that their dump truck is mad because it’s wheel got stuck in the sand. As kids get older this tendency gradually decreases, but for some, it still pops up well into adulthood (think of people you know who talk about their beloved car as though it is a person!).
Technology like Alexa taps into this tendency to attribute human qualities to objects. And, depending on your child’s developmental level, the line between person and technology may still be quite blurry. So, as you bark out commands to your digital assistant -- “Alexa, turn on the lights,” or “Alexa, play my favorite radio station,” or worse, as you keep trying to get it to work, saying more sternly each time, “Alexa. Alexa! ALEXA!” -- your kids are hearing and absorbing your tone and phrasing. Without intending to, you’re providing a model of communication that they may generalize to their interactions with friends and family.
Fortunately, with three simple steps (and ongoing mindfulness on your part) you can keep this behavior to a minimum:
As digital assistants continue to evolve I’m optimistic that new family-friendly features and parental controls will be added to their functionality. In the meantime, be mindful of the way you and your child interact with Alexa, and be on the lookout for unintended consequences that may pop up as you integrate this technology into your daily life.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.
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