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Surprise! You’re Kids ARE Using AI…

While walking home with my eighth grade son (13 years old) yesterday, I asked him if he had any homework. He kind of hesitated. 

So I rephrased it, asking him if he had any homework he was actually planning to do. Again, he hesitated. 

And then he said, “I’m just going to have one of my AIs do it.”

I paused, confused. 

Yes, I do a lot of work with artificial intelligence (AI) in education, but I haven’t really talked about it with my kids.

And when I asked about the approach to using AI at the school during Back to School Night in the fall, I was kind of dismissed, showing that the school didn’t really have any intentional plans to address or integrate the technology. 

So, where was my son learning about AI?

I asked him to clarify and elaborate, and he described the four different AI tools he uses (including ChatGPT). I asked him if he knew how to use it, and he said, “You just ask it for what you want and then do a little proofreading, correct a few things, and ‘boom!’”

I then asked him what his teachers were telling him about AI, and he, in a crockety, old-person voice, mimicked, “Don’t use AI. It is bad.”

And then he added, “But my teachers think we live in a prehistoric world, and they don’t get that the world is changing.”

My kid is using AI without any guidance from his teachers or his parents, just figuring it out on his own. 

In my work, sometimes schools proactively approach me because they recognize to urgency for their students in today's world.

And, sometimes, schools share with me that they don’t really need to do anything with AI because their kids aren’t using it.

Surprise! Your kids ARE using it, whether or not you realize it. 

So what can we do about it?

As a school…

Accept that just telling the students not to use AI won’t work. 

Even if they have the best intentions and want to listen to you, AI assistants are everywhere, and they may be using AI with their favorite tool or app without even realizing. Students are using AI, and many of them are using it without any guidance about how to use it effectively, responsibly, or safely. That’s a problem. 

Be intentional with how you talk about AI.

It’s normal for kids to have a rebellious side to them. If they are told outright not to do something, it will only make them want to do it more. Depicting AI as bad will only pique their interest more. And, at some point they will be asked/encouraged/forced to use AI, whether it’s later in school or in their professional lives – what do we want their connotations to be? “AI is bad” or “AI is a powerful tool, and it’s our responsibility to use it for good.”

Consider the role of education in an AI world.

If one of the goals of education is to prepare students for their world, well, they live in a world of generative AI. As such, education should include supporting students in engaging in AI in a way that aligns with the values of the school. If we’re leaving AI out of the conversation completely, we’re failing to prepare them for their world. 

As a parent…

Get familiar with AI yourself.

In order to have conversations with your kids, you need a certain level of familiarity with AI. No, you don’t need to be an expert in all things AI, but you should have a working knowledge of the basics so that you can understand for yourself where AI fits into your world and what questions you should be asking.

Teach your kids adaptability.

In a recent podcast episode, host Ezra Klein asked his guest Dario Amodi, founder and CEO of anthropic, how parents should be handing AI with their kids. Amodi started by saying, “I don’t know. He shared that AI may fundamentally change the world in ways we don’t know or understand, but because there is so much unknown, it’s hard to be really prepared. As such, teaching your kids to adapt to change is so important.

Encourage your school to integrate AI.

We’ve passed the point of ignoring AI’s presence in our world. Schools should be teaching how to use AI responsibly. Schools should be considering teaching elements of AI literacy. Schools should be supporting their teachers and students in this area, and, if they aren’t, parents should be asking them why not (and pushing for them to take a proactive approach because it’s what our students needs).

I was caught totally off guard by learning that my son was using AI without any real guidance from anyone. I had literally given two different workshops the day before about using AI, working with nonprofit professionals and teachers to integrate AI to make their lives easier, and considering how to ensure our students were prepared for their world. I am headed to New York in a couple of weeks to work with a group of schools on developing AI policy and aligning their AI usage to their school’s goals and values. 

And, yet, my kids aren’t being supported at all. If it could happen to me, if could happen to you. 

Your kids (and students) are already using AI. How are you going to make sure they’re doing it right?

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