How AI can be a parenting tool for teachable moments

Motherly Collective

The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT raises questions about how to parent in this new world.  

As a principal engineer at Microsoft (and a long-time tech geek), I’m a big fan of continuous learning and exploring new technologies, and I strive to instill that sense of curiosity in my kids. As parents, we quickly discover that there is a time and place when kids are open to learning. When kids are young, they seem wired for wonder. Our desire to nurture that inquisitiveness is why you will see a mother in a grocery store with a little one in tow pointing to every piece of produce asking, “That?”, “That?”—and the mother patiently explaining, “That’s an apple! Should we get some?”, “That’s a banana! See how it’s yellow?” We do this as parents because we know inherently that the ideal time for a child to learn is when they are genuinely interested and engaged in something, and that’s when they are most open to receiving and retaining knowledge.  

But as our children get older, those “teachable moments” become fewer and farther between. That’s why it becomes so important to seize them when they appear.

If I’m on a walk with my daughter and she spots a beautiful flower and wonders idly what type of flower it is, I never know the answer (botany has never been my strength!). But I can rely on AI tools to quickly engage with her in the moment. I pull out my phone, open Microsoft’s AI chat app, Copilot, snap a picture, and ask what type of flower it is. One quick answer later, she gets the knowledge—when she is genuinely still interested.  

As AI tools become more ingrained in our everyday lives, I’ve chosen to embrace them to not only engage deeper with my kids but also to support their everyday learning—and take some of the mental load off my own plate, as well. Here’s how I’m leveraging AI in my family life.

Meeting kids on their level

AI tools can bolster kids’ learning and development and foster creative thinking. Here are a few ways I like to use them with my family: 

  • Break down big concepts for kids, such as: “Help me explain the electoral college process to a 4th grader.” 
  • Help kids think about different perspectives—you can prep for a classroom debate by asking an AI tool to play the other side of the argument. (This also works in the workplace; I have used it to help me find any flaws in my reasoning before making a big presentation to vice presidents!). 
  • Craft personalized bedtime stories. Every child loves to be the star of their own story. Try a prompt with the Copilot app (free on App Store and Google Play) such as: “Write a story about a 10-year-old girl named Fiona who loves mermaids and solves the mystery of a missing wedding ring underwater.” 

Keeping healthy skepticism

Of course, AI is a tool, and like all tools, has both strengths and limitations—and can be used for good and bad. So it’s also important to talk to your children about using AI as you would with any type of tech. Specifically, understand their school’s policy on using AI tools for schoolwork. Much like the conversations we all had when the internet was gaining traction, and we learned how to engage with the internet safely and find trustworthy sources, children will need to learn to question whether content is AI-generated as reliance on these tools become more prevalent—and as AI-generated images get more realistic.

It’s important to help kids remember to ask themselves: Do I trust the people sending this to me? Is the picture intended to get a reaction out of me? The industry is working on better methods of content provenance (being able to trace where the content came from), but a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking can only help as this technology evolves. 

Assistant to the overloaded parent

Of course, the upside is that as AI capabilities continue to improve, some of the things it can do are truly remarkable. One of the recent examples that stands out in my mind was when I took my dog Titan to the emergency vet. It was late at night, and my brain was fried by the time we were done, not to mention I was physically and emotionally exhausted from the experience.  

The well-meaning vet gave me the instructions to give Titan 3 different medications—one 3x per day and two 2x per day. But the 3x/day medication could not be taken within 2 hours of one of the 2x/day medications. I got home and stared at the instructions blankly with no idea when to give the dog each medication. 

I tossed the problem to Copilot with this prompt: “Our dog Titan has to take 3 medications. He needs 10mg metoclopramide twice per day. He needs 1000mg carafate three times per day, but it can’t be taken within 2 hours of metoclopramide. Finally, he needs 10mg omeprazole twice per day, and this can be taken with the metoclopramide. I need to sleep from 1am to 7am. What is the best time to give the dog each medication?” It created a basic schedule for me with specific times for each medication. Of course, I verified and tweaked the results of the model output before giving medication to the dog, but it was a strong starting point that helped me and my sleep-deprived brain navigate this situation. 

Capturing curiosity in the little moments

But still, my favorite use for AI in parenting is leveraging those wonderful teachable moments. After a recent business trip, I was cleaning out my purse and my son caught sight of non-United States currency in the denomination of 100. He grabbed the $100 peso bill, immediately convinced that he was “rich,” and it spurred a conversation about different currencies around the world. I opened my AI app, snapped a picture of the currency, and asked how much this was worth in US dollars. (It was worth about $6.)  

As I snuggle with my “rich” little boy and we plan his bedtime story, I envision his future. I want a future where AI aids his learning, exploration, and problem-solving, and a future where he harnesses AI for good as he grows as a curious, creative, and compassionate individual. I kiss him goodnight and whisper, “I love you more than a hundred pesos.” He smiles and says, “Mommy, I love you more than six dollars, too.”

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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