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AI Technology’s Potential Impacts on Kids, Education, and Homework—What Parents Need to Know About ChatGPT

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ChatGPT, a new artificial intelligence (AI) program, has become wildly popular since it went live in late 2022. The program has teachers, parents, and kids alike concerned about the potential implications of generative AI tools on education.

Some school districts—including the largest in the country, the New York City Department of Education—have even banned the use of AI software on school devices and networks. Opponents of the new technology are primarily concerned students will use AI technology in school to cheat on homework, but other worries include potential exposure to misinformation and cyberbullying.

What’s actually happening with AI and ChatGPT in classrooms?

A new survey just revealed that more than one in four of over 200 teachers surveyed had already caught at least one student cheating using ChatGPT in a school assignment. Many teachers and education experts agree, however, that cheating with ChatGPT and using AI on homework would be obvious to well-trained instructors and would only produce mediocre work. 

The latest edition of the monthly web series CyberWise Chats, hosted by digital literacy organization CyberWise, focused on ChatGPT and AI’s potential impacts on learning. Experts Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and Diana Graber, founder of Cyberwise and Cyber Civics, and author of “Raising Humans in a Digital World” laid out some ways that teachers and parents can use AI technology for education in positive ways. 

Rather than banning the software altogether, Rutledge and Graber both recommend using the AI software to teach kids about concepts like content ownership, copyright, and misinformation. Teaching kids how things like AI and algorithms shape the world we see online can help them think more critically about the information and media they consume. 

Teachers are also using ChatGPT in fun and creative ways to augment their lesson plans. For example, kids could read an assigned book or poem, then create their own questions to ask the program and critique its answers. They can also use ChatGPT to generate creative prompts or questions about a topic for kids to answer. 

What do parents need to know about AI and ChatGPT when it comes to education?

While it’s natural to have fears about how new AI technologies will impact kids, many of the common worries shared by parents and educators can be mitigated with some proactive strategies. Experts recommend the following tips for using ChatGPT as a teaching tool—

  • Teaching ethics and cyber civics: Kids like to create content and feel ownership of their work. Use those concepts to teach them where the information comes from that ChatGPT shows them. It’s pulling information from all over the web using algorithms, or sets of instructions written into its code. All of that content was written by people originally, so it’s worth talking to kids about the ethics of using other peoples’ content, and how to keep their own content safe online. 
  • Teaching critical thinking skills: We all know there’s tons of misinformation online. Because ChatGPT is pulling information from all over the internet, that misinfo is bound to turn up in its generated responses. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about reliable versus unreliable sources, and how the content they see online is subject to the biases of its creators. 
  • Teaching online safety: The program’s terms of use state that users must be 18 or older, but it doesn’t actually ask users to verify their age when creating an account. This means younger kids could easily access ChatGPT and come across content that’s not age-appropriate. The program also captures personal data, which is illegal without parental consent for users under 13. If your kid is interested in using the software, it’s best to use it alongside a trusted adult. 
  • Getting creative: Aside from being a great learning opportunity, ChatGPT can also be really fun! Some creative ways to use it with your kids include—
    • Ask it to write song lyrics or a poem and see how the response changes as you change the prompt (for example, adding a musical or poetic style like “blues” or “limerick,” changing the topic, asking the AI to make it shorter, etc.)—noting, however, that asking the AI to create something in the style of a specific artist raises ethical issues around copying the creative work of others;
    • Have it create craft project ideas or a list of kid-friendly activities to try;
    • Have it write fun, creative prompts or questions for kids about their favorite topics;
    • Ask it to create a recipe to make together using the food you already have at home;
    • Ask it to answer questions you’re curious about, or to show you how to solve a math problem or write code.

While it may pose some challenges for parents and teachers, ChatGPT could ultimately have lots of positive uses at home and in the classroom. Before kids access the software, however, it’s important to walk them through how it works and what its limitations are. Adult supervision is always needed when minors are accessing AI software for learning and education.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.