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New Amazon Echo Dot for Kids Aims to Make the Smart Speaker Family-Friendly

The new Echo Dot for Kids comes with a bevy of new features that could potentially enhance kids' learning.

Amazon Echo Dot for Kids Amazon.com

Voice-activated technology is everywhere and may very well be the way of the future that kids would do well to start mastering now. That could be one of several benefits for families considering the new Echo Dot for Kids from Amazon, which is currently available for pre-order and ships on May 9. 

Pretty much just like the regular Echo Dot, the kids' edition of the smart speaker comes preactivated the new FreeTime service, which adds parental controls, kid-friendly content, and an optimized experience for kids to Alexa. Families can choose from a basic free service that comes with the parental controls (like blocking out shopping, news, and third-party skills that require linking up with external accounts like Uber or Domino's), and the FreeTime Unlimited service, which adds access to “over 300” kid-appropriate Audible audiobooks; ad-free, kid-friendly radio stations from iHeartRadio Family; premium Alexa skills from Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic; and custom character alarms from Disney, Nickelodeon, and others.

Both services allow parents to set time limits on when and how much Alexa can be used in a day, as well as pause access to Alexa for periods of time. The Parent Dashboard displays which songs, skills, and Audible books are accessed on Alexa, and it allows parents to delete any voice snippet recordings. Subscribers to Amazon Music will also be able to block explicit songs from playing via Alexa.

As for what kids can access through their own Dot? Qs about science, math, spelling, definitions, or even just knock-knock jokes.

And if you're working on manners with your kiddo, the smart speaker's Magic Word feature should come in handy. It offers positive reinforcement when kids use the word "please." The new Magic Word feature offers positive reinforcement when kids use the word “please” while asking questions of Alexa.

Amazon Echo Dot for Kids Amazon.com

“Tens of millions of households already use Alexa, and today we’re excited to introduce an entirely new way for kids to have fun and learn with Alexa,” said Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Amazon Devices and Services, said in a statement. “With Echo Dot Kids Edition and FreeTime on Alexa, parents can have peace of mind knowing their kids are getting age-appropriate content, while they listen to music, ask questions, enjoy Audible books, use Alexa skills, and more. We can’t wait for parents and kids to try this out.”

And in Amazon's statement, Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute sung the Dot for Kids' praises, noting, "The curated content and user experience has all been designed with kids, parents, fun and safety in mind. In our latest research report, FOSI found that the majority of parents were comfortable with their child using a smart speaker, and by making this service available, Amazon is creating another safe, kid-friendly experience for families.”

That said, parents would do well to incorporate the Dot's technology into family activity in a very conscious way, warns Alyson Schafer, a family counselor, author, and parenting expert. "I’m all about preparing kids to be good digital citizens," she explains. "But I’m concerned about when you have a kid who says [to Alexa], 'Read me a story." Well, who would that kid have said that to? They would have said it to a mom, sister, dad. Online relationships do not replace in-real-life relationships, and this just adds one more level of disconnect." 

If parents wish to use smart technology in their homes, she encourages them to "pay attention." Ask questions like, "Did the initially allowed 10 minutes with Alexa become 20 minutes? Did asking Alexa mean that you got off the hook for doing storytime? It's a slippery slope." She also notes that it is important for parents to be critical about who is curating the information their kids are accessing through technology like the Dot. 

Ultimately, with or without technology like the Echo Dot for Kids, Schafer says children need positive engagement with a loved one, the opportunity to make memories, and build a bond. As long as smart speakers can be used to enhance, as opposed to derail, those efforts, they could a worthy investment.