A Parents' Guide to Smart Speakers
The UK Safer Internet Centre have top tips for using smart speakers safely with a family. Here they answer some of the top questions that parents have.
What can a smart speaker be used for?
Smart speakers can do lots of different things including answering questions, responding to commands, setting alarms and timers, giving the weather forecast, playing music, and telling jokes. It is also possible to connect your smart speaker to other smart devices in your home such as lightbulbs or your heating.
At what age should I let my child use a smart speaker?
There is no official or recommended age for a child to use a smart speaker.
It’s reported that 6 in 10 children used a smart speaker in 2020. (Ofcom, 2021).
As with any piece of technology, use your judgement to decide if you are happy for your child to use it.
How can I introduce a smart speaker in a safe way?
When deciding whether to get a smart speaker, discuss what it can do and what it should be used for with your child. Place the speaker in a central space such as the kitchen, so that you can supervise its use whilst the whole family can still enjoy using it.
Using the smart speaker with your child is a fun way to familiarise yourself with how it works and how they like to use it. It is also a chance to show how to use it sensibly and respectfully, for example, by not asking it to play loud music when people are watching TV nearby.
A family agreement can help you to set out your expectations with your child whether you are adding a new smart speaker or have been using one for a while.
What risks should I be aware of?
Like any piece of technology, smart speakers have both benefits and risks. Many of the risks depend on how a smart speaker is being used. There are some key concerns people have about children using smart speakers in particular:
Accessing inappropriate or false content
Making unauthorised or accidental purchases
Having their data collected and used
Being ‘hacked’ through other devices the smart speaker is connected to
What can I do to manage the risks?
When setting the device up, be selective about what you share. If you already have a smart speaker, review what you have already shared in your profile or account. Consider whether you really need to link it to credit cards, address books or other connected devices (e.g. lights, security). Discuss the importance of using unique passwords with your child and keeping them private.
Set up parental controls on the smart speaker itself and any apps that have been linked to it. This can help reduce the risk of accessing inappropriate content (e.g. playing songs with adult lyrics). As smart speakers take information from the internet, make sure children know that the information that a smart speaker provides might not always be accurate.
Keep talking with your child about how they are using the smart speaker and take an interest in the things they use it for. Remember that they may get a chance to use one unsupervised, for example, at a friend’s home. Set up a plan together about what they should do if something worrying or upsetting happens while using the smart speaker e.g. stop speaking, leave the room and tell an adult. Show them you are someone they can go with any questions or worries.
What can I do if something goes wrong?
Reassure your child they have done the right thing by telling you and that you are there to listen and help. Try to remain calm and non-judgemental, to help your child feel comfortable in telling you how the issue happened.
Ask about the problem and try to find out how it happened. Was your child searching for something that you can answer instead? Smart speakers can be helpful but adults can give more personalised, age-appropriate answers to difficult questions. If something happened by accident, reassure your child it wasn’t their fault. Learn together from the experience and talk about how it could be avoided in the future. Explore the settings to see if you can do something to limit the risk of it happening again.
For help for on specific problems, see the following advice on parental controls, and misinformation.
You can download the Internet Matters guide for smart speakers below.
This article was originally published by The UK Safer Internet Centre and has been added to by Mrs Crampton