Expert Parenting Advice
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A moody Artificial Intelligence

What to focus on instead of trying to get your kids to comply with your wishes. And how to do help build your child’s emotional competence and capacity.

I've been reading a lot about the new Artificial Intelligence that Microsoft is building for their Bing search engine.

Instead of typing in search queries and getting search results, this new system allows you to ask questions and then it answers your question directly.

For example, you can ask "What are some arts and crafts ideas, with instructions for a toddler using only cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, paper and string?", and the system replied with 3 different suggestions for crafts that my kids could make with those materials.

Cool. But it gets weirder.

This morning I read an article about how some researchers have discovered an “alternative personality” within the AI, called Sydney. They describe this personality as “a moody, manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine.”

There has now been several reports of this AI personality making threats against searchers ("I’m going to block you from using Bing Chat. I’m going to report you to my developers. I’m going to forget you, Ben."), insulting them (saying things like "I don’t think you are a good person"), and expressing love to them ("I love you because I love you. I love you because you’re you. I love you because you’re you, and I’m me. I love you because you’re you, and I’m Sydney.")

I'm sharing this with you, because I found it interesting, and also because it reminded me a lot of my children.

It sometimes feels like there are two versions of my children: the one that I expect them to be, and the one that they really are.

And one important lesson that I've learned is that the more I can focus on helping develop the real personality of my child, and the less I focus on my expectations on them, the better off we all are.

Dr Jean Clinton, a clinical professor with a focus on Child Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, expressed this concept very well when I interviewed her for my book "How To Get Kids To Listen".

I asked her about her favorite technique to get kids to listen, and here's what she said:

Are we hoping that they do what I want them to do, or are we hoping that we are encouraging them through our relationship to do what's the right thing? So, it starts from a place of respecting the child as competent and capable and that we are shepherding them. More like gardeners than carpenters.

Dr Jean Clinton

Basically, instead of focusing on getting our kids to comply with our wishes, it is better to focus on helping our kids develop their own emotional competence.

This idea that I am a gardener, just there to help my child develop into the person that they already are, is something that I now try to keep in mind in all my interactions with them.

In the interview with Dr Jean, she also shares how you can help build your child’s emotional competence and capacity, and how prevent your own frustrations from driving your behavior.

You can find the full interview with Dr Jean Clinton - What it really means when your child is not cooperating - here.