By Jason Thacker
As my wife and I parent our two young sons, we see a world that is increasingly shaped by artificial intelligence (AI).
Our boys will not just grow up with dreams of robot maids and space toys, they will grow up alongside AI-empowered devices like our Apple HomePod and even better AI yet to come.
Seemingly every day I see ads for new personalized robots powered by AI.
For example, a new home robot, Vector, was released a few months ago. “Meet Vector, the good robot. The robot who hangs out and helps out,” reads the company’s website.
The company claims that Vector is more than a robot; he is your buddy, companion, and sidekick.
Vector fits in the palm of your hand and can take pictures, sense the environment around it, and connect to your Amazon Alexa device for even more functionality and skills.
This is but one small example of the world that our children will grow up in and the world that you must prepare them to engage with wisdom.
My boys will likely be shocked someday to learn that their parents didn’t have a personal robot at school, at work, and available to play with them and their friends.
The future is progressing so fast that it is hard to keep up as parents. We feel overwhelmed with the rate of technological innovation and often fearful of what technology will do to our kids.
But our role is not to shelter our kids from the world but to disciple them as they grow in wisdom and maturity.
So where do we start? How do we teach our kids about stuff that is new to us?
1. Learn more
Regardless of your technical expertise or robot know-how, you can seek to learn more about technology and artificial intelligence.
You can learn how these technologies intersect with your daily lives, and this will help you in preparing your children.
2. Learn with your children
Another step is to learn more about these technologies alongside your children. When you purchase a new device for your home, don’t just hand it to your kids to play with and disengage from them.
You will learn the most about the device and how to use it well if you sit down with it together.
As you learn together, you will naturally question things together. This is a perfect opportunity for you to model what it means to honor God and love your neighbor.
You can answer the questions they have and help guide them in ways to use this technology wisely.
Learning together also deepens your relationships with one another and builds a bond of trust that will serve your family throughout your lifetimes.
Your kids will know that they can come to you with questions rather than asking their friends first or trying to navigate powerful tools alone.
3. Be the one to introduce technology to your children
A third step is to expose your children to technology and artificial intelligence before others do.
As children encounter more and more technology in friends’ homes and at school, it will serve them well to already have some experience with these tools and wisdom from you before they are exposed to them in less controlled and less safe environments.
Many tools and guides for parents are available today, like the helpful little book The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch.
Crouch gives examples of how to introduce your children to technology and highlights some of the best practices to use as you teach your children.
There is not a one size fits all approach to technology in your home, but there is just one goal: maturity that leads to self-control and empathy.
Increasingly, school systems are preparing students for future work by helping them become conversant in technology, specifically AI.
Your kids will likely be exposed to basic computer coding and programming sometime in elementary school or middle school.
Many initiatives have been started in our schools and communities that revolve around the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program.
Stefania Druga, a research assistant at MIT’s Media Lab, created a program called Cognimates that allows parents and children (around seven to 10 years old) to participate in creative computer-based programming activities that teach them how to build games, program robots, and train their own AI models.
This type of programming is becoming more and more common in school curriculums nationwide, and for good reason, because students will encounter a world controlled in many ways by AI.
I am not saying that you should give your child a device without restrictions and let them figure it out, especially when they are young. There is much wisdom in delaying the adoption of technology in the home.
I know many parents (and kids) who at times feel like their kids are at a disadvantage because all of their friends have a smartphone or AI device and they don’t yet.
But delaying the adoption of technology is not going to harm your children. It might actually benefit them.
While they might miss out on things here and there, the value of restraint and maturity will serve your kids much more than the allure of immediacy as they grow older.
Sherry Turkle, an influential author and professor, was interviewed for a piece on children growing up around robots and said that we are beginning to see “children growing up without the equipment for empathic connection. You can’t learn it from a machine.”
Our children are going to inherit a world full of AI systems that they interact with every day, and it is easy to see how these daily interactions with nonhumans can damage their ability to connect with real people.
What we are seeing with addictions to smartphones and the drop in social connections is only going to get worse.
Every family needs to think carefully and prayerfully about how AI is used in their home.
It will likely look different for everyone, and that is a good thing, because we need to adapt our parenting to our kids rather than try to apply some system that works for others.
Whatever you choose for your family, remember your role as a parent is not to make your children happy or to entertain them but to guide them into truth and maturity.
JASON THACKER (@jasonthacker) is the chair of research in technology ethics and creative director for the Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission. Taken from The Age of AI by Jason Thacker. Copyright © 2020 by Jason Thacker. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.