Parenting Tech

Why I’m teaching my kid to be nice to Google.

Okay, this sounds totally like a first world problem. Because it is.

While browsing the internet the other day, I happened to come across a post about why kids should be taught to be polite towards their Google Assistants and Amazon Alexas out there. I believe it simply comes down to the golden rule. You know, the whole treating others as you would like others to treat you kind of thing. Maybe I’m also slightly worried about how much smarter computers are today than they were back when I was a kid. I’m sure there are people out there who think there will be an artificial intelligence uprising someday from human misuse and neglect.

I am not one of those people… But hey, it never hurts to be safe, right?

But seriously, have you ever seen anyone say nasty things to an Alexa to see how it would react? I’m sure there’s no negative reinforcement for those kinds of situations yet, but there is currently some positive reinforcement for kids who are polite to Alexa while requesting the song Baby Shark for the millionth time. Google Assistant will even be delighted if you use the words “please” and “thank you” while issuing voice commands to it and responds in a brighter demeanor when the user is being polite.

I start to wonder if this positive response could also train some rude as hell adults to become polite as well. I know many. And I can be one at times, I admit. How would we sound if we talked to others as we talked to Alexa and Google Assistant? Probably pretty rude and awkward.

The positive reinforcement after using manners on Google could help my daughter when addressing others for help in the future (i.e. not screaming “HEY GOOGLE, TURN ON THE TV!” to some poor person next to her) but it would also allow her to treat things with respect and care.

I like to think I take good care of my car, for example. I give it regular oil changes, wash it, keep the inside clean, and try not to drive like a jerk. It is one of the nicest things I currently own and have been able to pay for with my own money, and I view it as an important investment. My car is relatively new, and with the proper care, does not break down and is fairly reliable.

Our Google Assistant that lives in our phones and in our homes helps us multitask, set reminders and dates on our calendars, and even gives us some entertainment every now and then. (PJ loves asking Google what different kinds of animals sound like.) It is a useful tool in our home, and we take care of it so it can continue to be helpful.

While the jury is still out on whether AI can help or hinder a child’s development, there are definitely still some learning opportunities for both parents and kids while using these tools to aid in everyday life, and the technology will only start to become more commonplace and continue to get even smarter. That is if we are still following Moore’s Law, which basically says the speed of computer processors would double and chips would shrink in size every two years.

Still, there’s a whole other side of the discussion with kids and AI concerning privacy, whether or not to detect potentially violent situations in the home, preventing unauthorized access to certain content on the internet and keeping kids from going crazy with their parents’ credit card info on the internet, etc. But that’s a tangent for another post. This is how I’m trying to make good use of the technology to better my own daughter’s development.

Right now, our Google Home devices don’t always detect PJ’s voice, mainly because she is still getting a grip on the English language herself, and the device can’t always guess what she could be trying to say since she is still getting the hang of pronouncing certain vowels and such. For example, the “W” and “U” sounds are the trickiest for her to master currently. But there is a way for her to be detected as a child in Google’s eyes, and that is to create an account for her for the device to detect her voice and follow some setup steps for privacy and access restrictions. We haven’t gotten that far yet, though. She’s only 2 years old.

With our experience so far, we’ve learned that keeping PJ engaged with the tasks she uses Google for and not merely just barking out voice commands is essential. This enables her to reflect on her actions towards the device and not just merely enforce repetition (even though that alone in some cases is a good learning tactic). It also seems to be helping her foster a sense of curiosity with the world around her and makes her more inclined to ask questions. Lots of questions. Even ones that Dan and I would have never even thought of. It’s so interesting to see things from a child’s perspective sometimes. Juice up that innate, child-like wonder with the power of a seemingly magical internet genie in your kitchen, and it opens up a whole new world.

At the end of it all, I want my child to learn one main thing about things like Google and other powerful devices she may handle in the future. And that is to treat these things with great respect. Information can be used for bad things, even if it is thrown up into the internet for good intentions. I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry in some cases. We definitely take the power of the internet for granted these days, and it’s still hard to believe that I was alive and grew up in a world that did not even have it merely a few decades ago.

So it seems fitting to end this post with the following quote from my childhood: “With great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

Okay, Google. Get me a good recipe for pancakes (please!).

Health Tech Work

Why “unplugging” from the internet is important for me.

I fondly remember the camping trips I used to take growing up. We loaded up the car until things were starting to spill out of the doors, ran around the house a bit to make sure we didn’t forget anything (except the kitchen sink) and headed towards our favorite camping spot. It wasn’t too far away from where we lived, but it was far enough to be out of the noise of the city, and away from any responsibilities and obligations that we had back home. This was our vacation ritual almost every year, and we all looked forward to it every season.

Once we arrived, the bags got unpacked, the food got cooking, and our phones got turned off and packed away for an entire week. Yes, all the way off. Not on silent or vibrate. We went completely off the map.

Nobody could reach us easily and we could enjoy our family time in peace. I feel like this practice would cause some panic attacks now – but it seemed to be completely normal to do this sort of thing only 10 years ago.

Ha, “only” ten years ago. Look at me throwing around decades of time like it’s nothing. Psh.

Here’s a cringy childhood photo from the early 2000’s – proof that I really am getting older.

So why is it so hard to disconnect these days? Well, the internet is a lot more than what it was back in 2008, cell phones can now do so much more than just contact people, and a sort of obligation of availability seems to have taken hold of a lot of people. We now have online presences to maintain on our social media profiles and websites.

I think we’ve gotten to a place as a society where if we decided to unplug from our online lives, people will actually become concerned that we’ve died or something. (I’m still here, WordPress!) We’ve forgotten that we also have lives offline that need tending to.

The whole morning routine is even impacted by technology. Checking email, catching up on the news, even working out, it all usually involves being online or connected to our smartphones and/or the internet now. I have always done my best to keep a healthy boundary between my offline life and the online world. There are several reasons why I do this, and the biggest of these is to make sure I can stay healthy and productive IRL.

Even my husband and my in-laws will get irritated with me every now and then because I don’t always have my phone on me. There are certain days where a smartphone would be a distraction to me, and if I’m at work or on a job with them somewhere, I will more than likely not have my smartphone physically on me.

Just look at my life for the past few weeks:

  • I’ve picked up more hours at a part-time job, and my employer would not appreciate me updating my blog/Facebook on the clock.
  • We’ve closed on a “fixer-upper” that needs some TLC before someone in Toledo can call it a home, and have been chipping away on the to-do list for that. (Another post on that later!)
  • I have a 1-year-old.
  • The laundry has been piling up.
  • I have friends to hang out with.

… You get the idea, right?

Besides being in a busy season, here are some other important reasons why unplugging needs to be done regularly for me.

For Mental Health

I think of it like brushing my teeth. It’s annoying, but it needs to be done every day or some funky stuff will start happening in my mouth. The same thing applies to my brain. And my eyes. My head will literally start to hurt from all the light of the screens I stare at for hours, and looking at perfect, flawless photos of friends and other things I follow 24/7 is definitely not good for my mental mojo.

Turning off the computer and putting my phone away lets me be more aware of my surroundings, and allows me to be grateful for my life around me. It is good to live in the moment.

For Work

It really wouldn’t be safe for me to be distracted by a YouTube video while trying to use sharp and dangerous power tools that could cut off my arm. I can only multitask to a certain extent – and the more places my attention is, the less effective my work is.

This also applies to my writing. I find if I do it too much, my creativity suffers a bit. If I allow myself to unplug and experience the world going on around me, then I can jump back into the online world later and put those things on paper (or on this blog) for others to read about.

For My Daughter

There would be something seriously sad about missing a big moment of her childhood now because of my inattention due to my smartphone. Or from working too much. Or from being away a lot.

PJ is growing up so fast. Walking has now turned into running – sometimes clumsily into random objects. I really need to keep an eye on her now!

She is a big reason why the unplugging time for me is absolutely mandatory. PJ will not be this little forever, and I’ve got to cherish every moment that I can before I miss it.

For My Husband

Unplugging is definitely a thing that we both can struggle with sometimes, and I know he loves his time online with his friends playing Overwatch or PUBG on the Xbox, and then zoning out on Netflix after a long day. But we’ve both come to a shocking realization – everything on our bodies is starting to hurt and we are getting older by the minute.

There are so many things we want to get out and do together before we get so old that we can’t move well anymore – and we also need the time together to keep our relationship solid. Even if it’s just a few minutes in the morning sipping coffee together in the kitchen before we head to our jobs. Quality time offline to connect and check in with each other is so important!

For Freedom!

*cue screeching ‘Murica eagle here*

“lol wat?”

It is so liberating to not have any strings attached when I decide to go offline and to explore and to just live my effing life! As I’m wrapping up this blog post, I’m already thinking about what I’m about to go do next on a rare day off. I’m waiting for Dan and PJ to wake up from their naps. Maybe we’ll go to the park or something, but everyone is definitely looking forward to spending family time together today until Dan has to report to work this evening.

Gotta take advantage of chances like these to relax! I’ll be back soon with the story of our latest project soon.


Children Education

To my daughter: My childhood will not be your childhood.

Let me tell you, Dan and I have had a rough couple of months. We decided that we needed a day to reconnect and come up for air from all of the stresses of life as of late. I suggested that we have a day date — free from any distractions like the phone or the Xbox. After dropping PJ off to spend the day with her grandma, we wound up in my old hometown of Maumee. Since we were strapped for cash, a day at Sidecut Park was the most affordable choice. It was a nice way to disconnect from the rest of the world and unwind for a bit.

We walked along the riverside for a bit while taking in the fresh air and the wildlife. There weren’t many people around since it wasn’t exactly picnic weather. A few fishermen here and there, but the place was mostly deserted. This allowed us to see more deer and other animals in the area than usual. It was maybe 40 degrees outside but after all of the snow and slush, I was happy to take it.

Something happened that day that made me think.

Before we headed towards town for some more wandering (and some pizza), I went towards the river to skip some rocks. It was something I did during camping trips as a child, and it kept me occupied for a fair amount of time. Even that day, we spent about 30 minutes just throwing rocks into the river.

Then Dan confesses to me that he has never ever skipped rocks before. Like, ever.

I thought, where the heck was he when I was growing up? I’ve never heard of anyone who hasn’t done this already (in this area, anyway.)

The Maumee River at Sidecut Park.

It was interesting trying to teach a 26-year-old the art of finding the perfect rock to throw along with the techniques I used to get the rock to glide across the river. I felt like this was something that he should have learned a long time ago as if it were a rite of passage in childhood that he had somehow missed. After that, I immediately began to think of PJ. Would she be able to have the same kinds of joyful memories that I had growing up?

Obviously, my childhood will not be her own. She will have different experiences growing up because the world that she was born in is already completely different from the one I was born into. Compared to today, there was a noticeable lack of technology in the house when I was younger. I played Mario Kart on the Gamecube quite a bit, but I also had a healthy amount of time to spend outside with friends in the neighborhood. My sister and I didn’t get our first cell phones until after middle school. And I’m sure even back then, as the internet began to blossom, people were starting to become concerned with the excessive amounts of exposure towards technology that kids were getting.

But would it ever get to the point where we will forget the times where kids were able to have fun and grow up without it? Would there be more instances where I would be trying to teach a young adult an old-school time killer from my youth like Duck, Duck, Goose?

I mean, seriously! The news lately also seems to reflect this thought — the toy industry is struggling lately. Even the industry giant Toys R’ Us has filed bankruptcy and will be forced to shut down their remaining retail locations soon as a result of the changing times.

I wonder what will happen to Barbies and Legos in the future? Many toys today are already integrated with some kind of tech to keep up.

Look, I’m totally guilty of allowing PJ to watch Sesame Street on the TV while I try to hurry and get some work done. If I’m busy, I need something quick and easily available to entertain her while I take care of things. But I would hate to have her think the main form of entertainment only exists behind a screen or a tablet. This may make me seem like a horrible parent on the surface, but I want PJ to be bored. Bored out of her mind at times. I will leave her alone to play with her lifeless, boring looking toys and blocks for a while.

Now hear me out on this one.

Boredom is uncomfortable to deal with (even for adults!). However, it can foster innovation and creativity if we are allowed to simply explore the world around us. I believe the hyper-awareness of everyone’s actions on social media has made my generation the most paranoid group of parents to come yet, and this has made us constantly worried about others thoughts and judgments to our own child-rearing methods.

Of course, my child should be protected from any hazards I see around us, but I want her to learn how to create and build things. Maybe when she is older, we can try building a birdhouse together, or figure out how to grow veggies and other plants in our backyard.

PJ is not going to be able to experience everything that I did as a child, but I am going to make sure she is able to learn and play in this world as much as she can before she gets sucked into adulthood. I want her to make mud-pies and play with worms. I want her to be able to play in a sandbox and learn how it reacts to water and pressure to create sand castles. I want to teach her how to skip rocks across the water like a pro. I can’t wait to take her outside to play in the park, spend a day at the zoo, and even take her on a camping trip of our own.

Whether she is on a tablet or just existing IRL, the thing I want her to do most is to actively explore and learn about the world around her. Because it is going to be very different from mine. And hopefully one day, she can help me navigate the changes, too.