Children are at the heart of the voice technology revolution: they are the first generation for whom talking to technology is the new normal. A recent survey revealed that some 57% of smart speakers are purchased to entertain children, while another found that 70% of 8-17’s had used voice technology in the past year. Here are 8 key things to note when it comes to voice and kids:

1. The technology companies are catering to kids: the significance of children’s interactions with voice technology has not gone overlooked by technology companies, which are keen to capitalise on this burgeoning opportunity. In May Amazon released the Echo Dot Kids Edition, programmed with bedtime hours and the ability to block expletives in song lyrics. Devices such as Google Home and Apple’s HomePod are being similarly adapted to cater to child consumers.

2. Broadcasters are attempting to leverage the technology: broadcasters are working hard to ensure they are not left behind as children’s media consumption evolves. Disney recently introduced character voice alarms as part of Amazon’s new FreeTime Unlimited subscription that accompanies the Echo Dot Kids Edition. Similarly, Nickelodeon has produced a SpongeBob game for Alexa, using iconic sounds from its television show to create an interactive challenge.

3. Educator and entertainer: home agents have a dual role – a recent Childnet report found that whilst 92% of kids used such technology primarily to find out information, for 90% their chief secondary use was asking funny questions.

4. Kids trust voice and use it on their own terms: an MIT Study found that kids trust home agents, perceiving them to be ‘friendly’. Another study found that kids instil human qualities in their voice assistants; kids expect their voice assistants to respond as a real person would and can therefore run into difficulty when the agents don’t understand them.

It’s in kids’ natures to explore and we’ve found in our own research that they use voice technology on their own terms, for example, employing voice to seek out content that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access by typing given their developmental stage.

5. There are clear developmental differences in use: kids’ relationships with voice assistants vary with age. Younger children have been found to interact with home agents as if they were real people, asking personal questions, whereas older children test the technology’s capabilities, probing the machine’s knowledge.

6. Old fears over excessive screen-time are replaced by new concerns: last year Mattel was forced to end plans for a children’s smart home hub called Aristotle amidst criticism that the device, fitted with a monitoring camera, was a violation of privacy. Psychologists have also suggested that the domestic presence of voice assistants may influence children’s cognitive development. Indeed, a 2018 report warned that children who were used to making demands to Alexa may be aggressive in future social interactions.

7. Attempts are being made to mitigate against these risks: Amazon was quick to respond to concerns about the technology’s impact on child behaviour: in May it released new ‘Magic Word’ programming for Alexa, which encourages children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Criticism doesn’t appear to have hampered success however; the Children’s Media Foundation found that 22% of parents saw their virtual assistant as like part of the family, perhaps unsurprising considering the wide range of parenting tasks, from waking a child to helping with homework, that these devices can perform.

8. There is a delicate balance to be struck with the future of voice: companies must ensure voice doesn’t become overly intrusive. The Amazon-backed start-up Novel Effect is an interesting case in point: this app makes quotes from children’s books act as Alexa keywords, prompting sound effects to seamlessly accompany a parent’s bedtime stories. This has tremendous potential to enhance bedtime reading but may still be viewed by some parents as a distraction from the intimacy of that shared parent-child moment.
If you would like to discuss any of the topics outlined above, or if you just want to praise Whitney for her accurate hypothesis that children are indeed the future, do not hesitate to get in touch.