Real harm: Parents should prepare kids for how AI will affect the young

  • Family
  • Monday, 24 Jun 2024

Early studies point to several concerns; young children, for one, may share personal information with AI platforms. — STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images/TNS

ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the way we work, play and communicate. While artificial intelligence has potential to help solve complex problems, you’ve likely also heard serious concerns about it – and especially, the ways AI might change the lives of children and teens.

As child health experts at UNICEF have pointed out, kids around the world use AI almost daily. Most interactive toys, games and internet platforms made for children depend on AI technology.

Even though AI is advancing faster than anyone expected, most nations have not considered how AI will affect the social and emotional well-being of children.

Much more research is needed, but early studies on AI and kids point to several concerns. Young children may share personal information with AI platforms.

Studies show that little ones often chat with smart speakers, telling personal stories and disclosing details that grownups might consider private. Children may assume AI platforms are a lot like people. One study found that kids between three and six years old believed that smart speakers had thoughts, feelings and social abilities.

Only a few kids assumed the speakers were actually human. This could affect how kids learn to interact with others.

Another study found that young children thought smart speakers were more reliable than people when it came to answering fact-based questions such as, “Who was the first United States president to drive a car?”

Adolescents are big fans of generative AI that helps them write essays and reports and create images and video for social sharing (among hundreds of other possible uses).

However, only one in four parents whose teens use AI are aware they’re doing it, a recent poll shows. Artificial intelligence can be used to tailor lessons and learning experiences to the individual needs of young children and teens.

It can help educators and parents find ways to enrich learning for kids of all abilities at different stages of growth and development. And while it’s not a good substitute for live conversation, it can help children improve their language skills and even learn new languages.

Talk to kids

It’s important that parents talk with their children about artificial intelligence and tailor what they say to the child’s age and level of understanding. Here are some ways to do that:

• You don’t want to frighten a young child, but you can make them aware that the smart speaker in your kitchen is not the same as a trusted friend. Talk about the differences between people and digital assistants – or between live conversations with friends and family and chatting on social media. Draw examples from your own life so your child gains a sense of how you practise online safety.

• With teens, aim for an open discussion about privacy, bias, bullying and other online safety issues. Don’t preach – and don’t try to cover every aspect of AI all at once. Ask them for their opinions and keep an open mind. This can prompt discussions that will help you learn together.

• Teach older children how to manage online privacy. Explain how they can manage cookies, clear browsing histories and block social media users or marketers whose messages they choose not to see. Emphasise that this is something all online users should know and offer a few examples of how you protect your own privacy.

• Try artificial intelligence together. Consider testing out an AI-driven app like ChatGPT or Facetune together with your kids. This can give you the chance to discuss how it works and point out any issues that concern you. Common Sense Media offers reviews that help you choose platforms to test-drive as a family.

• Challenge your kids to look for signs of bias in online content. For example, you can make a game out of spotting things that seem real vs. those that appear to be fake. Ask kids where they think the information or images are coming from. Does the person, company or group sharing them have a goal in mind? What reasons do we have to trust or distrust the sender?

• Talk about plagiarism. In a time when anyone can cut and paste content and pass it off as their own, kids need to understand the concept of original work. Explain how they can use online information as a jumping-off point for their own thinking. Make sure they understand that copying or presenting the words, images and ideas of others without giving them credit is wrong – and often illegal. Continue the conversation as your children grow.

We have a long way to go in realising the benefits of AI while also protecting our kids from the risks it might pose. The guardrails we need should reflect the tremendous power of artificial intelligence to shape our everyday lives.

Ongoing dialogue should bring families together with schools, healthcare providers, sports and arts organisations and other community organisations, so we can help kids benefit from AI while minimising its potential harms. – American Academy of Pediatrics/ Tribune News Service

Dr Tiffany Munzer is a developmental-behavioural paediatrician and digital media researcher at the University of Michigan. Dr Munzer earned her medical degree from the University of Arizona College of Medicine and completed paediatric residency and fellowship training at the University of Michigan. She is an executive committee member of the AAP Council on Media and Communications. Her most recent work has examined how the pandemic has shaped families’ digital media experiences.

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