Oct 14, 2023 - Technology

Burned-out parents seek help from a new ally: ChatGPT

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

ChatGPT's latest job is to be mom and dad's brilliant sidekick. Parents of kids of all ages are using the chatbot to help raise their children.

Why it matters: The tool has the potential to ease the burden on burned-out, over-scheduled parents. But it's no replacement for a human's judgment — especially regarding what's best for their kids.

What's happening: ChatGPT excels at brainstorming and researching — both functions that can be uniquely useful to parents, says Celia Quillian, a product marketer in Atlanta who runs a TikTok account advising followers on creative ways to use the robot.

  • The chatbot could plan an 8-year-old's mermaid-themed birthday party in seconds, offering drink ideas like mermaid fruit punch — blue Gatorade with floating gummy fish — and snack ideas like seashell cookies.
  • It can conjure up a chore chart for a group of young siblings, tailoring the tasks so they're appropriate for each age. For example, a 7-year-old might start with picking up toys, while their 13-year-old sibling vacuums the living room.
  • It can even answer age-old questions that kids ask exasperated parents. Think, "Why is the sky blue?" The chatbot will feed you an answer fit for a 4-year-old.

Zoom in: Some parents are using the chatbot to navigate even bigger milestones in their children's lives.

  • Parents have used it to script "the talk" with young teens or draft a toast for their child's wedding.

What they're saying: Keith Foxx, principal at Foxxstem engineering services, regularly uses ChatGPT to connect to his third and youngest daughter, who's currently in 10th grade.

  • Foxx says his daughter struggled through COVID and now he connects with her by sending her inspirational texts or poems.
  • "I'll say 'Give me a 16-line poem for a 15-year old, from her dad. She needs motivation to go to school,'" Foxx told Axios.
  • Because he's able to get very specific in his prompts, the texts are personal. And if the result doesn't sound like him, Foxx gets even more specific.
  • "I may have a follow-up that says, '"This is good, but, you know, can you do it for an African-American dad?'"

Reality check: "The idea of using it for something meaningful like communicating with your kids" raises flags, says Yuko Munakata, a psychologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. "Parents know their kids way better than any AI system is going to be able to capture."

  • Kids, especially teens, will be able to tell when their parents are using their own words versus those of a bot. "It's this stilted, artificial thing," says Munakata. "All of the things that would make it special are not going to be there."
  • To this, Foxx argues that he keeps on prompting ChatGPT to get better results. He'll ask for responses from "a professional dad or a dad who really loves his daughter and spends a lot of time with her."
  • Foxx says he isn't trying to fool his daughter, just to connect. The last time he sent her a poem, he adds, she responded with "Thank you, Daddy" and a heart — "and then she was like, 'Did you use ChatGPT?'"

The bottom line: "It's like with every new technology. Take it with a grain of salt," Quillian says. "It's not an end-all, be-all."

Go deeper