Would an interactive, ‘smart teddy bear’ from Google be a good thing?

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Cyber Safety for Kids and Families with Joanna and Jodie on 103/9FM The Fish Family Morning Show

Photo: Paddington Bear Via Daily Mail, UK

Photo: Paddington Bear Via Daily Mail, UK

If Google makes a toy that pays attention to your child and appears genuinely interested in what your child is doing or wants to do, does that mean you don’t have to? Recent news headlines reveal that Google had filed a patent in 2012 for a toy that pays attention to who is in the room, with the idea being that you can have a pre-programmed interactive response customized for your child.  According to the recent Business Insider report, “The US Patent and Trademark Office shared diagrams Thursday depicting what resembled rabbit and bear toys with microphones in their ears, cameras in their eyes, speakers in their mouths and motors in their necks.” The report explains further that the device would also envisioned as human-like dolls, with pre-recorded responses for specific individuals recognized by the device, and is equipped with WiFi and BlueTooth to act as a remote control for other devices in the home. According to the patent documentation the toy would engage the child with eye-contact, perhaps a gaze, open and close eyes, raise eyebrows or furrow eyebrows to mimic a human thinking, emotion and interaction.

Parents, think Paddington Bear.

An Android Headlines report today suggests that this toy mimicking human interaction would probably not be realized, but the core technology has been deployed to make smart phones more humanlike in their responses, in features like “Okay, Google.” In any event, this patent begs the question: are we expecting too much from technology and not enough from ourselves?

As an ancient cyber mom, I urge parents to consider that many internet enabled gadgets that seem harmless and a novelty have the potential to be very disruptive if we are not mindful. This means that anytime you are authorizing a device to respond for you, or relying upon technology in the home that replaces face-to-face interaction, you may want to consider the trade offs. In her book, Alone Together: Why We are Expecting More from Technology and Less From Each Other (2011), Sherry Turkle observes that we are experimenting with our children and the elderly by relying on robots and devices in ways that denigrate our human experience, and we deserve better. It is true that technology can enhance and enrich our lives when we decide how to keep technology busy, not the other way around.

See related article: Are digital natives starved for attention?

Considerations for introducing web-enabled & interactive devices to your child

Keep in mind that parenting is something that is done for and with your child, not to them. Parenthood is not a service, but a divine appointment; it is a personal engagement that cannot be replaced by the device, toy or any other innovation of convenience or entertainment. So the most important thing a parent can do is be fully present in a cyber-powered world with numerous demands and distractions. Below are some considerations to introduce a device without surrendering too much of your personal power in the form of attention.

Be purpose-driven. Be honest about who is really benefiting from the use of the device. Is the device a pacifier? Or is the device being used to interact with your child and learn some new concept? Perhaps the device is a safety measure.

Personal attention is power. Where you give your attention is your power. And if  you are not managing personal attention at home, there may be a risk of surrendering inordinate amounts of attention to smart devices and media, rather than to one another.

  • Do not always equate more time with more attention.
  • Be conscious of whether or not you are giving your child undivided attention.
  • Give your child permission to interrupt you, with a signal, like a peace sign. When they hold up their fingers, acknowledge it and wrap up your conversation or task. And then give them calm, undivided attention.
  • Develop teamwork around chores
  • Become interested in your child’s media.
  • Get “techie” with it. If you are not savvy about social media, find a tech savvy friend to help you set up an account and have your child show you how they use it (SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, Kik, games).
  • Designate a time in the evening to turn off cyber technology making family members available for face time or other activities including getting ready for bed.


Banana Moments Foundation is dedicated to strengthening the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. To make a donation, please go go: Donations. Your generous support is greatly appreciated.

Jodie Stevens, Hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM, with her cyber mom, Joanna Jullien. They talk cyber safety on Tuesday mornings.

Jodie Stevens, Hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM, with her cyber mom, Joanna Jullien. They talk cyber safety on Tuesday mornings.

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.

Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.