Latest Absurd Moral Panic: Parents Complain Amazon Echo Is Creating Rude Children

from the I'm-sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept

It wouldn’t be a month at Techdirt without one group or another engaging in a fit of moral hysteria over something they really don’t need to spend precious calories worrying about. Whether it’s the false claim that video games create deadly assassins, VR makes us slaves to Mark Zuckerberg, smartphones have demolished cultural civility or having Google at our fingertips makes us dumber, there’s always something new to waste time having a hissy fit over.

The latest case in point is Amazon’s smart home play known as the Amazon Echo, a glorified speaker PC combo that will take voice commands, play music, or tell you the weather when asked — all useful but not exactly revolutionary fare. Still, an unspecified number of parents are apparently now worried that the Echo AI (Alexa) is turning their children into nasty little savages:

“But while artificial intelligence technology can blow past such indignities, parents are still irked by their kids? poor manners when interacting with Alexa, the assistant that lives inside the Amazon Echo. ?I?ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,? says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. ?[Alexa] never says ?That was rude? or ?I?m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.’?

At this point a concerned parent could do several things, the most sensible being to tell their child to stop yelling at the cheap, plastic, defenseless computer. But no, apparently some parents believe something must be done — because the cheap plastic computer doesn’t say “please” often enough:

“The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn?t exactly reward niceties like ?please.? Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker?s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct?curt even. ?If it?s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,? says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.”

This is, I think we can all agree, well beyond “disconcerting” and far into nightmare territory. Imagine, millions of homes in which little monsters are being created daily because Amazon didn’t make Alexa…nicer and more verbose. Truly a concern for the ages:

“For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting. ?One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,? says Greengart, ?and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.? It?s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as ?magical? while expressing fears it?s ?turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

One, there’s an assumption here that a child can’t really differentiate between a computer and a human being, and that a few months with the Amazon Echo somehow demolishes all previous years of social training, which on its face is more than a little absurd. Two, if you’re truly concerned that a little plastic computer is turning your child into a drunk, socially-incompetent werewolf, you could — turn the product off? As with all moral hysteria of this type, actual parenting can go a long way toward dulling technology’s clearly nefarious and diabolical influence in the home.

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Companies: amazon

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Comments on “Latest Absurd Moral Panic: Parents Complain Amazon Echo Is Creating Rude Children”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Oh these poor children, if only Amazon offered parents you could purchase to actively raise your children for you. They could tell them what is and isn’t acceptable and save you from having to worry your child might be mean to someone because they didn’t say please a computer.


If it upsets you that much, turn it off.
The simplest answer, but they can’t think of it.
Its better to demand a huge corporation do things to make you happy, than to do it yourself.

Alexa, please add common sense to these idiots carts with next day shipping.

DannyB (profile) says:

What would make the parents happy?

Maybe the Amazon Echo should have a small built in laser blaster for rude children?

Would that feature enhancement make those parents happy?

Perhaps, as long as the parents didn’t have to do anything, including the extraordinary effort of clicking ‘I Agree’.

Maybe Echo isn’t ‘making’ the kids into monsterous little savages, but is merely revealing that they already are.

John85851 (profile) says:

What is "turn it off"?

What is this phrase “turn it off” you speak of?

Since the early days of TV (or even radio), some parents would rather petition the government to “do something” rather than just turn the computer or TV or radio off.
If you don’t want your kids listening to it, then turn it off, but don’t make everyone else suffer for your lack of parenting.

The second issue is this: I would argue that the Amazon Echo is actually doing a good job with kids. Children should know not to be rude to their parents or adults so they’re playing with the Echo to see what happens.
And if parents think the kids will learn more about manners from the Echo than from mom and dad, then there’s a much bigger problem, called “responsible parenting”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, because the children have no influence from anything other than their parents. They do not watch TV, do not surf the internet, have no friends, are home schooled and are not allowed to go anywhere.

Horse shit.

It’s not as if every generation before Millennials didn’t have TV, friends or school competing as an influence with parents.

And as far as the Internet, it has the same “Off” button as the TV does.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They have influences outside of their parents, the problem is that parents have abdicated their responsibility in being the adult instead deciding to have the village raise their children so they can be their friends and not their parent.

If the kids are doing something they dislike, more often than not they bitch on FB or Twitter rather than say anything to the child. They wage war on corporations to do what they are unwilling to do themselves, raise their kids.

The pendulum has swung way to far to the ‘my kids will have it better than me at any cost’ side… serious none of us had iPhones & iPads at 10. We convinced ourselves that the kids need these things, and to take them away would be child abuse if the child misuses it. Its better to scream at Apple for not stopping their child from bullying someone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Every young generation has been ridiculed by their elders as being (insert many adjectives). This happens because … idk – people are assholes and it’s not just the young ones.

This constant haranguing of the next generation is quite stupid and without merit but it seems to here to stay. Apparently those wagging their fingers today are old, senile and have forgotten about how they were targeted in a similar manner when they were young. Those damn hippy commie basturds … and get off my lawn!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Great, Millenial parents are falling into the same mental trap that Boomer and Gen X parents have: the belief that well rounded children just sort of magically happen to people. The answer to every “what are our children becoming?” question is “what you raised them to be”.

Your children have no manners because you did not teach them manners. Your children disrespect authority because you taught them to. Your children spend too much time at the table on their phones/tablets because you taught them that was ok.

Parent your children. Parent your children. Parent your children. PARENT YOUR DAMN CHILDREN.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: A solution avails

“According to Jerry Henry: “And, it is amazing how friendly people are when standing next to an obviously armed person. An armed society is truly a polite society.””

I stand next to obviously armed people a few times a month. I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen them treated with a greater degree of friendliness than unarmed people.

Instead, the effect that they have is nervousness and an active attempt to avoid interacting with them.

John Henry is another of the surprisingly large group of people who confuse “respect” and “friendliness” with “fear”.

Anonymous Coward says:


Uh-oh. I own up to missing hearing the announcement that henceforth Alexa is mandatory in all residential properties. I confess, abjectly, I did not buy an Echo.

But if I had I might look at writing an app for it that, if the kids did not treat it nicely, would allow it to ignore them or tell them that the current time is bedtime. (I am assuming the API allows apps to distinguish between users, IDK)

Anonymous Coward says:

there's an assumption here that a child can't really differentiate between a computer and a human being

That isn’t an unfair assumption to make about plenty of adults. Children are for the most part narcissists, and the NIH confirms that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% of adults suffer from NPD. Most of these people typically can’t tell the difference between a refrigerator and a human as full grown adults.

The idea that a child’s social learning curve could be tainted by AI isn’t that different than the known and measured impacts of social isolation or psychological abuse. It isn’t measured as yet, but IMHO AI placebos for humanistic communications are likely to have an effect on child development.

My guess is that retention for bad habits are higher than for emulated media like TV because the feedback loop is closed. The children ARE actually getting things they want, not just experimenting based on what they see on TV, and typically not getting the expected response.

On the other hand, putting an Echo in a house with kids is a pretty good indicator that there is more than once source of narcissistic behavior to emulate in the household.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: there's an assumption here that a child can't really differentiate between a computer and a human being

Narcissism is effectively arrested social development. In adults, it manifests as the kind of behaviour you expect from a young child. I think that in kids it’s necessary to ensure that their needs are met but in adults it can be harmful and downright scary. Some people might think certain narcissistic adults are lovable child-people but those who have to cope with the irresponsibility and lack of consideration, not to mention the petty vindictiveness, end up thinking otherwise.

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Mental illness

This is a clear case of haplophobia “The most common manifestation of hoplophobia is the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user.” Most often applied to weapons but often applied to computers. Unfortunately this mental disease has a very low cure rate. Basically it is due to the inability of the person to recognize an opposing point of view as valid due “all powerful” ‘Evil Object’s Powers’ and the attitude that social problems are susceptible to technical solution. e.g. drugs to cure drug dependence.

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