With ChatGPT rising in popularity, what's a parent to do?

(The Hill) – Parents have a new platform to contend with in the battle to keep up with the ever-growing technological advances in their children’s lives: ChatGPT. 

The new AI technology has become so popular that some schools have banned it as it makes its way into the lives of K-12 and college students around the U.S. It has made headlines for its humanlike and unique responses to questions, which sparked concern among some educators around cheating and a loss of critical thinking skills.

It is not uncommon for children and young adults to be ahead of the adults in their lives with certain technological advances.

“I would guess that 95 percent of parents have no idea, anything about ChatGPT, haven’t thought about it, or don’t know anything about it. I’m guessing that high school and college kids are starting to figure this out really quickly,” said Matt Albert, former executive director at the Center for Reflective Communities. 

Parents not completely in the know may be quick to catch up as school districts take action against ChatGPT. New York City and Seattle public schools have banned the platform from their servers due to concerns about cheating. 

“Certainly as school districts engage, whether you’re in Seattle or New York and making policies, parent awareness starts to grow, but it’s not hitting the mainstream just yet,” said Shelley Pasnik, senior vice president for the Education Development Center and former director of the Center for Children and Technology. 

Have open conversations with children

There is no stopping the impact AI technology will have going forward, and ChatGPT is likely just the start of this era in education. 

Parents are on the front lines in guiding their children through this transition and ensuring their children are aware of the risks and benefits of the technology.

Parents need to figure out what their child knows about ChatGPT first, so that way they can correct any misinformation they’ve been given on it,” Shawnte Barnes, an education consultant who previously taught K-12 and has twin sons, said.

“First of all, you want to know if what they heard is based in facts, or if they heard something that’s really outlandish. Then you clarify what they heard,” before you talk about what you know about ChatGPT, she added.

Another way to address ChatGPT is for parents to explore the platform with children and work with a child’s curiosity about the new technology.  

“That overall approach of curiosity and labeling it as a tool that could be used for many different purposes helps set an expectation of learning and exploration rather than if a parent labels something in a negative way or in a positive way, you miss out on that opportunity of exploration and discovering together what the possibilities are,” Pasnik said. 

ChatGPT is similar to other technology, with benefits and concerns that come with it, and parents can largely treat the conversations with their kids in that way. 

“The way that parents should be talking to their kids about ChatGPT, just like they should with everything else, is there are really potentially positive ways to use this technology and there are some, you know, unethical and or dangerous ways that the technology can be used,” Albert said. 

Albert showed his own daughter ChatGPT and how it could type up an essay for school. He then followed it with a conversation about the platform.

“We had a conversation about cheating, about her ethics, about what kind of person she wanted to be, but we also had a conversation about what is learning, do we care about a grade or do we care about the process, do you know why do we go through the process?” Albert said.

Parents’ concerns with ChatGPT

Parents may have concerns about how their kids are using technology and how it will affect them, especially when it comes to new advances that are not yet broadly understood.

In line with concerns from educators and school districts, some parents are concerned about the cheating threat ChatGPT poses. 

“There are a lot of legitimate concerns that parents should have regarding ChatGPT the most obvious is cheating,” said Albert, who is the director at the Teshinsky Family Foundation in California.

OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, previously said in a statement it is working with schools to address these concerns. 

Another worry may be how much time children could spend on ChatGPT. 

A survey last year by Common Sense Media found screen time increased 17 percent between 2019 and 2021 among tweens and teens, taking up hours of their day. 

ChatGPT may be another distraction, as children explore what the platform is capable of doing.

“Then there’s the ‘man, you spent the whole hour putting random questions and prompts into ChatGPT and you haven’t cleaned your room, you haven’t come out and said hey,” Barnes said. 

Ultimately, one of the biggest fears could be fear of the unknown, as many are still just getting familiar with AI technology.

“We have no idea where AI will go in terms of ethical and moral questions, so that’s a big concern,” Albert said. “Parents need to be concerned as their children are on the internet, who’s on the other side of a particular conversation that they may be having? At this point, it gets to be a question of, well, is it an AI or is it a person, right?”