3 Insights for Parenting in the Age of AI

Even though more people are using artificial intelligence (AI) today than a year ago, the numbers remain relatively low. Only about 23% of U.S. adults have ever used ChatGPT, according to Pew Research Center. But never mind adults. What about our kids? While 18% of 9- to 12-year-olds have never heard of ChatGPT and 30% have never used it, that means the majority of kids in this age group have heard of it and are using it, according to the National 4-H Council’s recent survey. That tells me we need to do more to catch up on AI’s capabilities so we can better guide our kids.

My own child, a teenager, introduced me to ChatGPT last year. I couldn’t believe he knew how to use it, and I realized I needed to quickly get on board. Kids as young as kindergarten are also using AI, but those children may not realize it. We need to stay a step ahead and guide our kids through this new era of generative AI. Here are 3 insights to help you parent better in the age of AI.

1. Cultivate awareness of AI.

Research from a Barna survey in February 2024 found that many parents are concerned about AI but aren’t actively trying to learn more about it. But if we want our kids to be tech savvy and safe in the age of AI, we have to be more intentional. For younger kids, you can introduce them to the concept of AI by pointing out everyday examples like voice assistants and educational AI games to show how AI works. Also, it’s important they know these tools aren’t human and don’t have any emotions. “One study of 3- to 6-year-olds found that some young children believe that the smart speakers in their house have their own thoughts and feelings,” reports Arianna Prothero for Education Week.

Takeaway: Get curious with your kids about AI and look for ways you’re already using it. Rather than shielding kids from AI, Prothero suggests giving them “a peek under the hood so they can start to unpack how these technologies work.” That might mean digging in first yourself with intentionality to learn more.

2. Foster critical thinking skills.

As kids get older, they should get better at developing their critical thinking skills. You can help by encouraging your kids to work with AI-powered technology to solve problems instead of using it to do the work for them. For example, Aaron Grossman, a 5th-grade teacher in Nevada, uses Google Gemini for grammar questions and a smart speaker for kids to answer simple questions if he’s with another student. To model proper use of AI tools, you can use his techniques at home.

Be thoughtful about which AI tools you use; refine your prompts in chatbots to get better answers; test the accuracy of the information chatbots spit out, and recognize where AI bias might appear in outputs, says Prothera. Sitting at the table with your kids and working closely with them in these ways will foster the important critical thinking skills they’ll need to use AI in a responsible way.

Takeaway: Artificial intelligence “should be used as a tool to complement and challenge the critical-thinking skills” that are developing in your older child, says developmental behavioral pediatrician Tiffany Munzer. We should practice using AI (try Gemini or Claude) at home in creative and thoughtful ways so everyone is on the same page.

3. Maintain open communication.

It’s humbling when I have to ask my kid how to change a setting on my phone. But kids have grown up with smartphones—either their own or ours. They’ve had the curiosity, the motivation (it’s fun!), and the time to figure out these devices and what they can do. It didn’t take long for kids to become more tech savvy (like when they figured out how to hide their tracks from us! If you don’t remember, check out this article on What The Tech?).

Instead of falling into this trap with AI technology, let’s make the effort to stay a step ahead of our kids, or at the very least, learn alongside them. As your child hits 10, 11, and 12 years old, keep the conversation going about AI-powered tools. The tech is constantly evolving, and if we don’t stay informed, our kids will quickly surpass us in knowledge.

Takeaway: Stay in the know with how your kid is using AI-powered tools, especially if he has a phone or laptop where access is free and easy to use. Because kids will eventually get curious about adult things like sexuality, world affairs, and violence, we need to make sure AI isn’t being used as the answer for all of their questions. Kids will always benefit more from face-to-face conversations with a parent who understands their emotions, loves them, and can guide them in an age-appropriate way.

Sound off: How aware of AI are your kids, and what are you doing to stay informed about it yourself?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “In what ways do you think life would be different if we didn’t have smartphones?”