‘I want this NOW!’

Are children using digital assistants such as Alexa at the risk of turning rude? A survey seems to suggest so

London: Modern children have become used to having a digital assistant at their beck and call.

But the “Alexa generation” risks rudeness towards real humans because they have become used to barking orders with no consequences, a report has warned.

New figures show that 42 per cent of children in the UK aged between nine and 16 use voice recognition gadgets at home, with the most popular option being Apple’s Siri assistant.

Children are most likely to ask the assistants for homework help, with one in seven using it to look up facts or for a virtual dictionary or thesaurus.

But the report, by researchers Childwise, also warned that the growth of the technology could have “implications around how children will learn to communicate”.

The tolerant nature of the devices – which carry out orders even if they are not accompanied by a “please” or “thank you” – could lead to children communicating differently with other humans, the authors said.

Simon Leggett, the research director said: “Will children become accustomed to saying and doing whatever they want to a digital assistant ‘do this, do that’ – talking as aggressively or rudely as they like without any consequences? Will they then start doing the same to shop assistants or teachers?”

Younger children are more likely to be using the technology than older children, the report found, with less than half of 15 and 16- year-olds who have it at home saying they use it at all.

“The proportion saying they don’t use increases gradually with age, suggesting that younger children, growing up with this technology, are more comfortable with using it to help them with day-to-day tasks,” the report said. Janet Read, a professor in child computer interaction at the University of Central Lancashire, said her own research suggested parents should take care to ensure they are polite to the devices to set an example to their children.

“If the parents say ‘thank you, Google Home’, when they’re finished, the child will also say ‘thank you Google Home’,” she said.

“If you give that device personalised qualities then young children will talk to it like it’s a person. If you’re in a home where parents are being rude to the devices then the children will pick that up.

“The way you talk to the device will just reinforce the manners that are acceptable as a family. If you’re not pushing good manners in your family and you’re also being rude to the device, then you’re just reinforcing the idea that that manner is acceptable.

“If you’re using the device to reinforce good manners then you’re going to make the children even more good-mannered.”

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018

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