Alexa: What is Your Relationship with My Child? Friendships Are Not On Demand

With Amazon launching its newest “Kid Version” of Alexa I ask you as a parent to stop, observe, and wonder…before you buy.  While A.I. is definitely helpful in making our lives more manageable it has its downsides. As adults we choose our interactions with technology, and most of us also had the benefit of growing up with simpler technology.  If you dive into the research on devices like Alexa and their impact on children, the findings show that the developmental impacts can be significant.  From the perspective of a Speech Therapist turned parent I removed them from our home before my daughter was born.  I had first-hand experience with some of the social and emotional downturns to using these devices around young children.

  1. Some children begin to view Alexa as a “friend” who they converse with. Except, this friend doesn’t have the typical relationship rules that we manage with friendship.
  2. Alexa deals with questions and commands, which are responded to immediately. There is no wait time.  Patience isn’t necessary, and neither is being polite.
  3. For children, it eliminates thinking or guessing. Why take a guess, or use your imagination where asking Alexa is easy?
  4. It eliminates delayed gratification, which is a skill that is strongly linked to resilience and success during life’s challenges.
  5. Young children aren’t adept at code switching yet or distinguishing a difference between reality and imagination. Social skills are at a major point of development in these stages. How is Alexa impacting them?

Now, I am NOT saying Alexa is all bad. Especially, when used to help facilitate skills under supervision.  There are some ways to positively use the devices for individuals who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication, and those learning language/speech practices. The key is being monitored, and parent led.  I think it’s important as a parent to reflect upon in your family if Alexa’s benefits outweigh any negatives that you may notice.

It’s good to pay attention to the effects on us as adults as well.  

In our society we have information directly at our finger tips all day every day. “Hi Alexa. Can you tell me how….” We no longer have to wait for information and have less opportunities to problem solve on our own.  What does this do to your mindset? How do you feel when there is a problem you feel stuck on? How are you at making decisions? Unfortunately, Alexa probably isn’t going to answer your question about why your friend, wife, husband, sibling, or parent is upset.  It isn’t going to help you join the watercooler conversation at work, help you artfully break news to an investor or client, or help you navigate the ups and downs of relationships.  This is why it is so important we teach ourselves and our children the power of social observation, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness. We need be gentle with ourselves when we don’t know, and excited about the opportunity.

Because not knowing is the best way to start thinking again.

Using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Projects to Teach Self Awareness & Social Observation

I recently began incorporating STEM projects into my group Social Lessons with my students who struggle with social-cognitive competencies and social anxiety.  I developed the idea from Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Thinking About You Thinking About Me” as I noticed that a majority of my students struggling to navigate social situations in the academic setting also did not understand the difference between the vocabulary “Think”, “Know”, and “Guess”.  I also noticed that these were the same students that would not raise their hands if they were not 100% sure of an answer, and then if they were wrong may not participate for the rest of the day.

Winner explains that lack of knowledge related to these vocabulary words appears to directly link to a person’s ability to understand other’s thoughts and motives.  For some, directly teaching the meanings of these words can expand perspective taking skills.  Helping children to use the information in their environment to identify what they know about a person or situation, what they think, and then to make logical guesses about things that may happen.  You can imagine that difficulty integrating this information may cause more than a little stress. 

I set out to find a simple STEM project where I could demonstrate concretely the difference between the terms.  We chose a simple Catapult Project where the students built a Catapult using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a spoon.  We then laid out the terms.

The students needed to “think” about how many of each supply they would need, and then use the vocabulary to gain the supplies (ex: “I think I need 12 popsicle sticks, because of the picture).  They then assembled the catapults and had to “guess” the distance that the catapult would launch their bead.  After that they recorded with a tape measurer how far the bead went and stated what they “knew” based on their measurements! We discussed how you “know” information from hearing it or seeing it, how you make “smart guesses” based on clues (ex: the materials you use, the weight of the bead), and how you “think” or plan when you are completing a project based on information you have in front of you, or that you have seen, or learned, or even your own imagination and experiences.  Our next step is to introduce these terms with thinking about others (based on social cues) in our social setting.

After this activity it was easy when my students would respond with “I don’t know” for my answer to be “I am not asking you to know, I am asking you to think!”