How Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Affect Children? –

By: Tiffany Munzer, MD, FAAP

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the way we work, play and communicate. While AI 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.
With so many viewpoints out there, how can you make sense of AI and its possible impact on your family? Let’s start by looking at how AI works and what issues that parents and families may need to consider as the technology evolves.
AI is modeled on the human brain—how we gather facts, descriptions, comments, images and much more and make sense of it all to complete a specific task. The difference is that AI draws the input together, sorting it and making it immediately accessible to us. However, unlike human knowledge, it doesn’t have the ability to connect new information to all of our other life experiences.

AI technology has been in development since the mid-1950s. Thanks to recent breakthroughs, though, AI-driven tools are quickly becoming part of our everyday lives. For example, when you contact customer service, AI may help answer your questions. When you explore international news, the words you hear or read may be translated into your preferred language by AI. In your doctor’s office, an AI speech recognition program may help the medical team take notes and update your chart.
On a larger scale, AI is used to study traffic safety and flow, for example, and analyze health risks in large populations.
Generative AI is technology that creates content that in the past could come only from humans. For example, instead of sitting down to draft a report, a writer might use ChatGPT to come up with relevant facts and suggested wording. An artist might create what looks like an original photo or drawing by entering a short description into an AI-driven program.

It’s easy to see why some kids use AI to help them with school assignments. They can find facts and search among millions of charts and images to learn more about a subject. AI also powers grammar programs that can check their work to fix writing errors. Schools have rules about how AI can be used for homework and writing, though, so it’s important to check with teachers. Teens also need to learn to be honest about when they used AI with assignments.

Even if your kids aren’t using AI for portions of their schoolwork, they (and you) are coming in contact with AI every day. Your children, and your family as a whole, have a digital footprint. This may be made up of every online search, purchase, download or viewing and listening session you engage in. If you use an AI-driven smart speaker to answer questions about the weather, sports scores and more, you’re feeding even more data into this collective footprint.

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:

There are many ways AI technology can help kids learn and grow.

For all the promise they hold, AI platforms can also harm children and families.

They can be used for bullying and fraud. Generative AI can be used to create false or distorted images of your child or teen, or someone they know. One example: the fake nudes that have been used to attack and shame many teens. Deepfakes and voice cloning can be used to threaten kids into taking actions they ordinarily would never consider, like giving private information or sending money. (See "What Do Teens Need to Know About Sextortion and Online Predators.")

It’s clear that AI is here to stay. But in the U.S., legislation hasn’t kept pace with technological growth.

AI is a moving target, so you may find it hard to set healthy guidelines for your child or teen. Here are a few common-sense suggestions for you to consider. You can also share them with teachers, coaches, neighbors and community leaders who work with your child.

We have a long way to go in realizing 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 AI to shape our everyday lives.
Ongoing dialogue should bring families together with schools, health care providers, sports and arts organizations and other community organizations, so we can help kids benefit from AI while minimizing its potential harms.
AAP Family Media Plan

Video: 5 Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Generative AI (Common Sense Media)

Tiffany Munzer, MD, FAAP is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician 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 pediatric 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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