Skip to main content

Keep your kids from spending hundreds of dollars and more ways of parenting with Alexa

Amazon Echo Alexa
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends
Of the myriad descriptions being levied on Amazon’s Alexa “smart home” system, its creators probably weren’t expecting the phrase “parenting nightmare.” Yet that description has come up again and again as parents discover the new and unexpected consequences of introducing kids with developing brains and underdeveloped vocabularies to devices that can misinterpret, miscommunicate, and even make purchases on your behalf.

Perhaps the most famous case so far was that of Megan Neitzel of Dallas, Texas, who didn’t realize when she got an Echo Dot as a gift that her six-year-old daughter might ask the digital assistant about cookies and a dollhouse. Alexa did her job and indeed, Megan’s little girl did get what she wanted — which, in Alexa’s mind was four pounds of cookies and a $170 Kidcraft Dollhouse. To the family’s credit, they donated the fancy dollhouse to a local children’s hospital. They ate the cookies.

Then there was the aptly titled, NSFW YouTube video “Amazon Alexa Gone Wild,” in which a little boy asks the digital assistant to play “Digger, Digger.” Alexa’s misinterpretation leads to some inappropriate — albeit, hilarious — responses as the parents scramble to shout, “Alexa, stop!”

Amazon Alexa Gone Wild! (ORIGINAL)

But while viral videos and mistaken orders make for funny news bulletins, there is actually a serious risk in relying on digital assistants like Alexa to placate children. Some parenting experts are warning that overusing the device could make some children feel that Alexa is a servant to be commanded, which is behavior that could potentially be carried over to the schoolyard. Other experts also warn that technology often acts like a drug, firing up pathways in the brain lit up by instant gratification.

Amazon didn’t include a ton of parental controls in its devices, but hopefully more are in development. For now, there are a few of quick fixes to keep your kids from becoming viral sensations.

Disable shopping without a PIN

Applying a pin number for the authorization of purchases is a good first step. Open the Alexa app, tap the left navigation panel, and then select Settings then Voice Purchasing. You can either turn it off entirely or require a four-digit code. Just don’t use it in front of your little brainiacs.

Change your wake word so it’s not ‘Alexa’

Changing the wake word from “Alexa” to something else is another tactic. This also helps prevent the risk of secondary commands, which was an issue on Super Bowl Sunday when Google’s commercial for the Home started activating Home devices around the globe. To make the switch, open the Alexa app and select Settings from the navigation panel. Choose your device, scroll to select Wake Word, pick your preference from the drop-down menu, and click or tap Save. Amazon, Echo, and Computer are all options, though your kids might catch on pretty quickly to this switcheroo.

Make your kids an account

If you set up a Household Account, it allows you to make two grown-up accounts, as well as up to four child accounts. These kid accounts can’t make purchases, but you can share G-rated books and music with them. Unfortunately, you can’t use Alexa products to access these accounts just yet, but hopefully it’s a feature that Amazon engineers will take into consideration.

Maybe Amazon will fix this…

Maybe frustrated parents can lobby Amazon to take the advice of writer Hunter Walk, who suggested that Alexa needs a kid-only mode that only responds to “Alexa, please…”

Updated 2/16/2017: Updated to reflect that Alexa cannot yet access child accounts yet. 

Editors' Recommendations

Clayton Moore
Clayton Moore’s interest in technology is deeply rooted in the work of writers like Warren Ellis, Cory Doctorow and Neal…
Alexa can now tell you when a package is delivered
Senior citizen using Alexa to stay connected

Amazon has always wanted to have Alexa become the end-all and be-all assistant. Thanks to a new update, it's one step closer. Alexa can now tell you if it sees a person or a package through one of your security cameras. Also, if you have an Echo Show or a Fire TV, Alexa can automatically pull up a live video feed of the subject.

Amazon recently allowed third-party companies to tap into this new feature by revealing a new API. As a result, companies such as Google, Ring, and Abode have already added person recognition to their video security doorbells. According to Amazon, all of Ring's video doorbells and cameras should be updated now, while Google's Nest Cam Indoor, Nest Cam Outdoor, Nest Cam Floodlight, and Nest Doorbell will receive the update soon. In addition, Abode's IOTA and Outdoor Camera will also receive the update.

Read more
Google Home (Nest Audio) vs. Amazon Echo
Echo 4th Gen

If you're thinking about buying a smart speaker, you might be undecided on what to get. We hear you. With all the news and info you hear about the two most popular voice assistants, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, it's hard to know which one to choose. Given their usefulness from playing music to some other stuff you probably didn't know they could do, it's no wonder they're so invaluable.

While the original Google Home speaker has long been discontinued (the name lives in the all-purpose Google Home app), Google's line of smart Nest speakers, like the Nest Mini and Nest Audio, carry on the tradition with updated features.

Read more
Is your Amazon Echo, Alexa, or Ring down today? You aren’t alone
Amazon Echo Show 15 hanging vertically on the wall.

If you've tried to use your Alexa or Ring device this morning only to receive no response, don't worry -- it's not just you. Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing backbone of and large portions of the internet, is experiencing outages this morning that are affecting thousands of users.

But it's not just Amazon-powered smart devices. There are thousands of outage reports for Disney+, as well as games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, League of Legends, and others. You might notice that your Alexa smart assistant doesn't respond, or just says she doesn't know what went wrong. Even using your Alexa app to activate smart devices might not work.

Read more