Is the Technology Our Children Use Stereotyping Them?

From the racism embedded in algorithms to biased answers coming from AI tools, using modern technology is a minefield of stereotypes that can affect Black children's self-esteem.

Teenage Girl Doing Homework At Home Asking Digital Assistant Question
Photo: Getty Images

Technology is a part of our lives from the moment we rise until we lay down at night. Staying connected is useful, but it can be a double-edged sword as parents try to shield their children from harmful information easily accessible online. Racist stereotypes create an added layer of stress. So, how do we help our kids navigate technology?

"Children pick up on racial differences in their first few years of life. Without thoughtful adult intervention, children can adopt—for life—the prevailing societal attitudes toward, and status of, racial and ethnic groups, including their own," says psychologist, Dr. Susan Linn whose book, Who's Raising the Kids? examines the impact of Big Tech and big business on children's values, relationships, and learning."The problem with the tech-driven, omnipresent marketing that kids experience today isn't just that they're being sold stuff. It's that the values, conventions, and behaviors embraced and engenderedby gargantuan, minimally regulated, for-profit conglomerates permeate all aspects of society."

Young people spend so much time with tech and media that they're likely to pick up on biases embedded in the content they consume. As Linn lays out in her book, our digitized, commercialized culture isn't good for children's health and development, the environment, or democracy.

There are also biases in children's programming— against people with disabilities, those who are gender non-conforming, people who belong to different cultures, or practice different religions—to consider. When Disney+ debuted, the streamer refused to pull old movies that featured demeaning stereotypes like those in Peter Pan against Native Americans, Dumbo against Black communities, Lady and the Tramp against Asians, and Aladdin against Arabs. Instead, it issued a weak disclaimer at the start of the films that said, This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions. Disney+ essentially left the responsibility of explaining its out-of-date programming to its viewers.

Sesame Street came under fire after a viral video surfaced of its Rosita character ignoring Black children at Sesame Place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a result, Sesame has implemented anti-bias training for employees.

Linn also details a disturbing find about Amazon's Alexa device that promotes a feature to answer children's questions and help them with homework. She bought an Echo Dot Kids Edition and asked it the question, "What are African American girls?" Alexa replied, "According to, African American girls are the fastest growing portion of the juvenile justice system. When she asked the same question about African American boys, the device responded that "the majority of African American boys are struggling readers/learners."

"Alexa told the child I was pretending to be that African American kids are either 'bad' or have trouble with learning. For a Black child that can be devastating on a deeply personal level. It also plants seeds for other kids, and perpetuates harmful stereotypes that feed racism," says Dr. Linn. "This would be terrible enough in technology aimed at adults. But it's much worse when aimed directly at children by a company claiming it can help with homework. It's not a stretch to imagine that kids today are seeking out all sorts of information on race, gender, sexuality, religion, and more."

In the book Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya U. Noble an internet studies scholar and Professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color. What children see on social media sites is influenced by things they've previously "liked," commented on, or shared—and on their online behavior— not necessarily on truth or facts.

While it seems daunting to micromanage what your child views online, the real goal for parents is to teach them to use technology responsibly.


Dr. Alduan Tartt is an Atlanta, Georgia-based psychologist, minister, and media personality who works with singles, couples, children, and adolescents. Here, he offers five tips to help navigate bias before they navigate online resources:

Ask Questions- A lot of them. Find out your children's experiences, understanding, and feelings about racism. Before we can provide wise counsel on how to deal with racism, we need to first listen to assess their needs and respond in a loving, caring, and effective manner.

Look it Up: Have children look up the psychological term, implicit bias, which means unconscious favoritism toward or prejudice against people of a particular ethnicity, gender, or social group that influences one's actions or perceptions. Discuss it as a family. Have kids think of areas where you all have implicit bias to begin a discussion on racism.

Clarify Family Values- Have a conversation about family values around how people are treated, expectations in confronting racism, activism, and safety concerns in response to racism in the community, at home, or in school.

Create a Safe Space- Model celebrating differences in your household interactions. Tolerance is better learned through experience and modeling versus a speech. Teach your children how to stand on what they believe while also accepting the influence of an alternative approach. This is a sorely missing skill and is reflected in our poorly run political divisions.

Expose Them - There is an adage, "I can show you better than I can tell you." Exposing your kids to different cultures and viewpoints to expand their experiences to be less biased. This could mean having dinner at a restaurant of another culture. Attending a church of a different religion. Inviting a friend over who may be of a different race. Make sure children are grounded in who they are and what they believe while exposing them to different worldviews to enhance true education and diversity.

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