A Parent’s/Carer’s Guide to Smart Home Technology

Inviting Alexa, Siri or Google into your home can be exciting and beneficial for you and your family.  Equipped with the ability to stream music, play games, tell jokes and provide the answer to almost any question, smart speakers offer some much-needed distraction and entertainment – especially for children.  Like all online devices, smart speakers – or digital assistants – can pose certain risks in terms of your child’s privacy and the content they are exposed to. However, there are steps you can take to keep your child safe while using and enjoying them.    

Turn on filters to keep content child-frien

Most smart speakers have settings that can block explicit content. Families who use Amazon devices can set their preferences using the Alexa app. Simply tap the More menu in the bottom right-hand corner. Then, tap Settings > Music & Podcasts > Explicit Filter.  For Google Home and Google Nest devices, open the Google Home app and tap Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Set up > Next. This will provide you with a range of filters for video, music, calls and other features.  Any streaming services you use with the smart speaker (e.g. Spotify, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, Google Play, etc.) should also be set up to limit content that is not age-appropriate. 

Schedule breaks and turn off calls

Notifications from your smart speaker are helpful, but they might interrupt your child’s remote learning or their sleep at night.  To avoid this, use your smart speaker settings to schedule time when the device switches off notifications and does not respond to voice commands.  This feature is called Do Not Disturb on Amazon products and Downtime on Google devices.  And since all smart speakers can make and receive calls – not only to family and friends, but also to strangers – you might want to switch this feature off too. 

Disable voice purchases

Some smart speakers can make purchases online after receiving a voice command to do so. Go into your device settings and turn off voice purchasing to prevent any unwanted surprises on your credit card bill.  If you decide to allow your child to use the device to make some purchases using smart speakers, make sure they know to ask for your permission first. 

What about privacy?

Privacy and security issues around smart speakers are ever-evolving and can have serious repercussions.   If you have accounts for Amazon, Google, Facebook and other companies, you might be comfortable with accepting some privacy risks online.   However, a smart speaker can allow these companies to observe what happens in your home too, and concerns have been raised about smart home technologies “spying” on their owners. Every company offers privacy settings in its app, and some allow you to delete questions and conversation history.   It’s important to weigh up privacy risks with the potential benefits the device could bring. Alternatively, you can switch off the speaker when your family isn’t actively using it. 

Alexa isn’t always the expert – you are!  

Settings on devices can help to ensure safe and fun experiences for all the family. However, they can’t replace a parent or carer’s role in doing so. Talk to your child about online safety and establish agreed boundaries for using smart speakers.  While supervising your child’s interactions with a smart speaker, try to participate as much as possible. Asking your child about what they just learned – making connections related to that topic can enrich the interaction and help children learn the difference between communicating with a human and Artificial Intelligence.  And, of course, remind them that they can always talk to you whenever they have problems online. 

Recommended Posts