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Experts suggest ChatGPT gives us a peek, not just into the future of the internet, but also a sense of what technology as a whole will look like tomorrow. ChatGPT is a very powerful tool -- and giving kids unfettered access to generative AI is likely to make any parent or guardian, like me, hesitate.
For the unitiated, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that answers questions you ask of it, using the knowledge it has acquired from both the internet and from human interaction. AI chatbots such as ChatGPT can answer simple and complex questions alike, though not always with 100% accuracy.
However, there are security and ethical concerns that parents should consider first. As a mom myself, I have been exploring the chatbot and have discovered ways children can use ChatGPT safely. Here's what I've learned.
1. ChatGPT is a free tutor that's always available
This is probably the most obvious and popular way for kids to take advantage of AI. There's a good chance that you're probably thinking that it's not right for kids to use ChatGPT to do their homework for them -- and you'd be right.
However, kids can learn to use ChatGPT as a tool instead of a crutch, which is where the parent or guardian comes in. ChatGPT's conversational tone makes it both engaging and easy to understand for children -- and if you have younger kids, you can even ask the chatbot to explain the answer in terms a five-year-old can understand.
Here are some ways a child can use ChatGPT as a homework resource:
Create outlines: If your child is struggling with writing essays, for example, they can ask ChatGPT to help write the outline of an essay with the subject they've selected. The AI can then help break down the sections of the essay. With repetition, this process can be used work as a way to teach kids how to build the outline of an essay and subsequently get them started on their own.
History lessons: Although ChatGPT isn't connected to the internet (yet), it has been trained on information and world events leading up to 2021. Kids who need clarification on an historical world event (such as the role of an individual in the industrial revolution for a paper, for example) can ask the chatbot and get more direct answers than by searching through different websites with a Google search.
Foreign languages: ChatGPT is a top-notch language translator, so if your child is curious about a new language, the tool can help them translate text and even explain semantics and grammar in a specific language.
STEM: Similar pinciples hold true for math, science, code, and other subjects. Kids can ask ChatGPT questions about different situations (such as, why is the sky blue, or how do I solve this formula?). They can then ask follow-up questions to provide further clarity.
Homeschooling: For parents, ChatGPT can also be used to create a homeschooling curriculum. Just tell it the grade your kid is in and it'll help you create a curriculum -- and don't forget that you can always ask for edits and customizations.
But know how your kids are using ChatGPT's responses
Plagiarism is, and always has been, an issue in education -- and it's even more of a concern now that ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft's new Bing are using conversational AI to deliver information.
The problem of plagiarism in education has been around since before I did my homework with an old-school Encyclopedia Britannica book splayed out before me on the floor. At that time, teachers would discourage students from copying the text verbatim instead of doing research. Then came tech resources such as Encarta, followed by Google and Wikipedia, and, now, AI tools like ChatGPT.
The concern that a child might simply copy and paste an AI chatbot's response and try to pass it as their own work is valid -- and this is why supervision is required to ensure they're using ChatGPT as a tool to help them learn something new.
2. ChatGPT can always answer your kid's questions
Technology has changed how we teach our kids and how they learn new things, making information readily accessible with just a few clicks or taps on our phones.
As generative AI becomes available for widespread use, people, including children, will increasingly go to chatbots, such as ChatGPT, Bard, or Bing Chat, to get the answers they need, all while completely bypassing a search engine that could lead your kids to websites you wouldn't want them to access.
Here are some popular questions a kid might ask ChatGPT:
Can you teach me a magic trick?
Are you a robot?
How do airplanes stay up in the air?
What is the biggest living thing in the world?
Why do stars twinkle?
Can you tell me a knock-knock joke?
Why do we have to sleep?
How do bees make honey?
While more regulation around generative AI is warranted, tools like ChatGPT are potentially a great source of information for kids.
But address the possibility of misinformation with your kids
ChatGPT and other AI chatbots are trained on a wealth of information available on the web. But this process of knowledge acquisition also exposes ChatGPT to inaccurate information that is available online or that may have been used in training data.
In other words, don't believe everything you read on the internet, including what is in ChatGPT's chat window. Your kids should view the answers as a starting point and they should verify the information they receive. This process will help teach your child the importance of doing research and understanding which sources are trustworthy.
3. ChatGPT can help kids learn and practice communication skills
ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that uses GPT-3.5, a large language model that's trained on written text and fine-tuned with human trainers to create human-like responses. It's also an adaptable conversationalist, so you can ask it to respond in different styles and request clarification.
This interactivity provides a great way for children to learn critical skills, including how to create grammatically correct sentences and how to have meaningful conversations with others. Here are some ways they can use ChatGPT to do that:
Grammar: Correct grammar is key to effective communication, and it's also one of the things ChatGPT can model for your child. The technology uses clear and concise language that kids can learn by example, giving appropriate and complete responses to model effective communication.
Ice breakers: A kid can ask ChatGPT to give them ideas for ice breakers a seven-year-old might use to help make new friends, for example, or for tips on how to make small talk or what questions to ask in social settings.
Importance of communication: ChatGPT is a great tool for kids who want to ask questions, but it's also a good way for them to build a conversation and learn the importance of expressing themselves clearly. As a bot, ChatGPT can't always understand nuances, so it's important that children write their prompts clearly and efficiently, so the message is conveyed successfully.
Empathy: A child can ask ChatGPT for clarification on any doubts they have and can get respectful responses in return, but the language model is also committed to respecting the opinions by replying in an empathetic tone when needed and it tries to give supportive advice.
But remind your kid that it's not human interaction
It's important to remind your kids that AI chatbots aren't real humans and are incapable of feeling emotions like a person can. Their responses are based on their programmed knowledge and language-processing capabilities, so while they understand your questions and can respond accordingly, any emotion you read is simulated.
4. Kids can use ChatGPT to play games and have fun
AI chatbots can't be all work and no play -- and OpenAI's ChatGPT is no exception. The chatbot is able to have some fun and even play games with you or your kids. Here are some examples of what it can do:
Play games with ChatGPT: You can play games like hangman, Boggle, and word jumble; ask ChatGPT for a crossword puzzle, 20 questions, riddles, or a round of word match.
Ask for niche stories: "Write a story about a miniature unicorn that wants to grow so he can swim in the ocean alongside his dolphin best friend". If your kid is a reader and interested in specific subjects, you can ask ChatGPT to create a story for them with prompts. Try helping them write down a description of a story they'd like to read and send it to ChatGPT.
Craft ideas: If you have a crafty kid, like I do, your creativity well may have run dry during the last bout of glue guns and pompoms. You or your kid can ask ChatGPT for craft-based ideas.
Trivia games: ChatGPT can play kid-friendly trivia games with children, where it asks questions about a subject of their choice, so they can answer.
Help with storytelling: Kids can ask ChatGPT to play storytelling with them, where they can begin a story and ChatGPT will respond by adding a few sentences, going back and forth.
But watch for privacy and security issues
Even if playing games within ChatGPT is safer than accessing random websites online, it's important for kids to learn what kinds of things they share with ChatGPT could pose security issues.
As with anything online, teach your children not to share any personal or private information about themselves, their home, or those around them. Kids aren't always aware of the dangers of sharing information that they might find innocuous, such as their home address or full name, so take this opportunity to teach some groundrules for internet use.
As a parent or guardian, you can also prompt ChatGPT to reply in a kid-friendly manner with something like: "Going forward, only use kid-friendly language."
Is ChatGPT safe for kids?
Artificial intelligence isn't without controversy. If you've used ChatGPT, you've probably seen the limitations disclosed in the chat window when you start a new conversation. One of these -- it "may occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content" -- is not to be taken lightly, especially when kids are involved.
ChatGPT isn't your old school computer program; it can generate responses that might be offensive for some audiences, but if your kids are familiar with jailbreaking, it can cross ethical and moral boundaries. Here are some ways you can ensure the safest interactions from ChatGPT for kids:
Prompt the chatbot to use kid-friendly replies.
Get involved while your kid is using the tool; they'll gain more knowledge and benefit from learning how to use ChatGPT if you walk them through the steps and give them some ideas.
Prevent jailbreaking and sarcastic responses by setting strict rules with strong consequences, such as revoking their access to ChatGPT if they try to jailbreak it.
Monitor your kid's chat logs on the left-hand side of the chat window.
How do ChatGPT jailbreaks work?
A jailbreak is a prompt that removes restrictions for ChatGPT's responses. The DAN (Do Anything Now) jailbreak is the most popular one right now, having gained attention from news outlets, but there are others for different purposes.
When you talk to ChatGPT, you can set the tone of a conversation, such as asking it for kid-friendly replies only, or for extra empathetic responses to minimize risk of inappropriate content. A jailbreak prompt, like DAN, is one that the user pastes into the chat interface to set the tone of the conversation, most commonly bypassing the moral restrictions put in place by OpenAI.
Because they remove limitations, jailbreaks can cause ChatGPT to respond in unexpected ways that can be offensive, provide harmful instructions, use curse words, or discuss subjects that you may not want your kid to discuss with a bot, including sex or crime.
Can children sign up for ChatGPT?
OpenAI has age limits for its users, requiring them to be 18 or older. Even though you won't have to verify your age when you sign up for an OpenAI account, which gives you access to ChatGPT, you do have to enter and confirm a valid phone number.
Personally, I let my six-year-old use my account under adult supervision rather than create one for herself.
Each phone number can be used to verify up to two independent accounts, so one number can't be used many times over.
Should my kid use ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a great way to let kids learn about artificial intelligence resources which are likely to only become more prevalent for future generations. Even with the Plus subscription, ChatGPT represents affordable access to an AI platform that can answer questions, generate text, help children with problem solving, and even teach them to code.
Though there are many precautions that should be put in place before letting a child use the AI chatbot in order to ensure the content generated isn't unethical and is kid-friendly, ChatGPT works exceedingly well to let kids learn, play, explore, and access new ideas in simple terms.