Parenting with Alexa While the Family is at Home
May 1, 2020
Balancing working from home, schooling from home, playing at home, and just having the entire family at home during these times can be a challenge. For families who have dedicated voice assistants, like the Echo or Google Home, there might be some strategies parents can use to help augment their parenting tasks during these times of social distancing and sheltering in place.
I was a member of a research team which investigated how families adopt and use smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo Dot, in their daily lives at home. One surprising finding was that families were unaware of many of the child-friendly features on their devices. I wanted to share some suggestions based on our research findings that might help families who own smart speakers navigate these challenging times.
- Use your smart speaker to complement and augment parenting goals.
In our paper, Parenting with Alexa, we discuss how parents use smart speakers to reinforce their existing parenting goals. For example, parents can use smart speakers to help their children increase their autonomy by showing them how to use to-do lists, set reminders, and set timers. In addition, parents can use smart speakers to read stories, sing songs, and tell jokes to their children during times that the parent needs a break. You can search on Amazon.com to find and read reviews of these skills. For example, skills to help with to-do lists can be found here.
- Communicate with loved ones.
Some of our participant families used their Amazon Echo Dot as an accessible method for their children to call other family members. With social distancing in place, this might be an ideal time for children to be able to call or leave messages for their grandparents—entirely through voice access. However, parents might need to talk to their children about managing appropriate times to make those calls.
- Find games and activities that children can independently engage in using their smart speaker.
In our paper on how families learned about using their Echo Dot, we saw that many families were unaware of the available games and skills for their Echo Dot, such as Panda Rescue or the Magic Door. However, when families learned about these skills, they felt that some of the skills were helpful in promoting their children’s listening and critical thinking skills. Some parent-oriented resources that describe Alexa skills for kids include these articles on Red Tricycle, Common Sense Media, and Amazon.
- Consider if you’d like to use your smart speaker as a neutral third party.
An interesting finding in our study on parenting with Alexa was that some of the parents and children in our participant families referred to their Echo Dot as a neutral third-party mediator. For example, parents used the timer function as a way to help resolve disputes, such as setting the timer for children to share toys. A child in our study used their Echo Dot to help decide on the time to start an activity by using the random number generator. When it came to following directions, some of our participants felt that their children would listen to Alexa more than family members; however, we don’t know if this effect would last over time or if it is just due to novelty.
We found that using digital home assistants/smart speakers like Alexa do not replace parenting tasks, but can help parents further their parenting goals in the home. Hopefully our research findings provide families with some ideas on how they can use their smart speakers to help navigate some of the challenges of these historic times.
Erin Beneteau is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and a PhD student at the Information School at the University of Washington. Her primary areas of clinical practice include working with preschool age children, as well as working with people of all ages who use assistive technologies for communication. Erin has practiced in the United States, New Zealand, and Ireland as an SLP. and she has also worked in the technology industry as an instructional designer. Her recent research on family interactions with the Amazon Echo Dot has been an exciting way to blend her interests in technology and human communication.