It was a Monday morning and we were running late—again. My two girls were wrestling on the floor as I tried to get a toothbrush in one of their mouths. I’m sure I was yelling. I’m sure they were yelling. Our typical morning routine (which now feels like a distant memory, to be honest) had dissolved into chaos, when suddenly spoke a calm, familiar, and disembodied female voice, “This is your reminder,” it said, “bring a (robotic pause) stuffed animal to school today.” It was Alexa, talking to us through the Amazon Echo Dot we have sitting on our kitchen counter. The three of us collapsed on the floor laughing. Thanks to the reminder I’d set for myself weeks earlier, I managed to get everyone’s teeth brushed and we were out the door with a favorite stuffed animal tucked securely into my kindergartner’s backpack.
At that moment, I recognized the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help make my mornings a little easier. I have an Echo Dot in our kitchen and in our bedroom and an iPhone equipped with Siri. Some of my other friends swear by their Google Home. Beyond how I had been using my devices—for cooking timers, weather updates, and driving directions—I started using Alexa and Siri to make elements of my parenting less stressful. Here are a few ways they help me.
1. All of the Timers
Timer use is wide-ranging in our house. When I tell my kids they have to turn off the TV in five minutes, I actually ask Alexa to set a timer for five minutes. Alexa acts as my objective third party, and my kids are less likely to push back. Plus it keeps me accountable. How many times have I said, “10 more minutes on the iPad,” only to get distracted and realize 30 (or more) minutes have passed. Since I started maximizing my Alexa timers, I also haven’t left wet laundry in the washer overnight or been late to school drop off or pick up. Small victories.
2. Kids Entertainment
One of my great joys in life is a spontaneous kitchen dance party, And now my kids understand how to put in their own music requests so we can boogie down before dinner. Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of an adorable two-year-old demanding Alexa play her “Baby Shark.”
Podcasts can also offer audio entertainment to spark your child’s imagination. Finding podcasts options for kids is easy with apps like Kids Listen, including selections broken out by different age groups. I have been recommended a few favorites for younger children, including:
- The Calm Kids Podcast: Mindfulness and relaxation for kids
- Ear Snacks: Musical exploration of the world
- Little Stories for Tiny People: Bedtime and anytime stories
I know I’m not giving up reading books to my kids at bedtime to artificial intelligence since it is one of my other joys of motherhood, but I could imagine listening to some of these podcasts on long road trips as an alternative to screens (or screaming).
3. Settling Arguments
Since we’re on screaming, breaking up fights between siblings can be exhausting, “She hit me first!” “She spit at me!” “She looked at me with a mean face!” Amazon has a free app for that too: Kids Court. Each of your children can tell Alexa their side of the story, and Alexa determines a verdict. It’s mostly used for fun, but again, my kids somehow find it harder to argue with a verdict coming from someone other than their parent.
4. Modeling Manners
Sometimes I catch myself getting frustrated when my AI assistants aren’t being helpful while I’m trying to navigate somewhere new or using voice-to-text. As AI becomes more ubiquitous, I don’t want to lose my humanity and basic decency when interacting with it (hello Westworld). Plus I want to set a good example for my children, so when Alexa or Siri do me a solid, I make sure to at least say thank you.
5. Broadcasting Reminders
Once my husband was trying to get ahold of me at home while my phone ringer was off. It wasn’t a real emergency, but it was something urgent. Suddenly I heard our security system say “System Armed.” My husband had used the security system’s app to set our alarm because he knew I would hear it. While it worked to get my attention, it also could have backfired into a panicked 911 call.
Like our beloved landline phones of the past, you can use Google Home and Alexa to broadcast reminders. You may remember the heartwarming Amazon commercial where a new mom leaves her partner home with the baby for the first time and reminders echo throughout the house all day, including Alexa’s final reminder, “I’m reminding you, Laura loves you and you’re doing a great job.” Showing how artificial intelligence can even help us practice a little gratitude.
6. Answering Random and Existential Questions
A friend of mine had just set up her Alexa and upon hearing the voice for the first time, her toddler gasped and asked, “Is that Jesus?” Posing random and deep questions to Alexa has also become a habit of my inquisitive 6-year-old, like “What happened to the dinosaurs?” “How are babies made?” and “What happens after we die?” Spoiler alert: Alexa gives great detail on the dinosaurs, keeps the origin of babies brief, but even Alexa can’t answer that last one. My kids will still need me to help them understand the questions that don’t have easy answers.
This article was originally published on May 3, 2019 and has been updated for timeliness.