Artificial intelligence helpful to teens?

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -

Dr Asha Pemberton

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing technology that is increasingly present in our lives. AI is used in many ways, from voice recognition on telephone banking services to self-driving cars. With this rapid growth, there is an ever-increasing interest in how AI could impact the future of our teenagers. AI has the potential to bring about a new era of opportunities for our youth, but there are also potential threats to be considered. It is useful to explore the potential benefits and risks of AI technology as they relate to our adolescents so that parents and educators can make informed decisions about how to best prepare their teens.

The definition

The first step towards understanding the potential impacts of AI is to understand the technology itself. Artificial intelligence is a technology that allows computer systems to “think” and solve problems in the same way (or similar) that humans do. The thinking is really a process of algorithms that are finely tuned to explore many, many possible outcomes yet provide the one that would be most like human thought.

Artificial intelligence follows a set of instructions called a “code” and then constantly refines and improves it over time. It takes in data, makes predictions, and adjusts the code if necessary. In fact, it is the very interaction with humans that makes AI more powerful.

As an example, the more time we spend on specific social media pages or content, we “teach” our apps that these are the things we enjoy. In turn, more is presented to us. We often think that our phones are listening to us, but more than that, the AI is learning from us and tailoring the advertisements, Instagram suggestions and YouTube content to our habits.


One of the most significant impacts of AI technology on teenagers is its potential to improve their academic performance. AI can provide personalised learning and create tailored study plans based on individual needs. It can also be used to create interactive textbooks and visualisation tools that help understanding.

However, there are also some risks. There are several popular AI platforms that can literally do the work for students. By simply keying in a few words, there is the ability to generate an essay, projects and even an entire thesis dissertation. This raises the issues of cheating, plagiarism and loss of actual learning, since young people do absolutely none of the research or writing. So while on one hand, AI can provide more content for teenagers to learn and tailor content to their learning style, it can equally remove any element of learning through use. A slippery slope.


Within the domain of health and well-being, AI-driven applications are being designed and deployed to address health care concerns for young people — particularly in the context of mental and behavioural health. It is possible to enter information on symptoms and emotions and the bot then form a diagnosis and provide treatment suggestions.

There is the potential for earlier health interventions for vulnerable populations of youth who have challenges accessing healthcare services. However, AI-based technologies also create challenges for young people who need to physically see a healthcare provider and not attempt to treat themselves.

While knowledge and awareness are important aspects of youth healthcare, there still needs to be the ability to seek actual care to prevent errors in treatment. There are also real issues in relation to privacy. It is still unknown how these applications can collect and store personal data. This leads to questions of ethics and a whole Pandora’s Box regarding rights and access to potentially sensitive information.

Social development

A rapidly progressing aspect of Artificial Intelligence is its ability to carry on a real-time voice conversation with users. As recently as this week, an updated version of one of these platforms was released. It features an impressive human-sounding voice which has the ability to speak on a variety of topics in response to the user.

At first thought, this may seem to be purely entertainment. The concern is the ability of the programme to engage youth with social developmental issues or social anxiety and take the place of real person interaction. Already, the world of online gaming is comforting and accessible to youth who would rather not confront their discomfort in social settings. Over time heavy use exacerbates their symptoms and makes assimilation into school or work environments that much more challenging.

The addition of software that can literally speak back constantly almost replaces the need for people! There are many authors who question the ethics and wider societal implications of this technology and certainly there is room for conversation and wider discussion.

Future careers

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of AI is the potential for technology to replace some of the human workforce we currently have. It is clear that some functions that used to be conducted by people have been subsumed by "bots". Most online or telephone services, troubleshooting or contact portals are run by AI. They generate the most frequently asked questions and supply the answers. Only after seemingly endless options are exhausted are you then directed to speak to a human.

More and more, even this option is becoming extinct. This can conceivably be applied to many aspects of future industries. While on some fronts there is fear that the career landscape will continue to change, we equally need to consider the ways in which future careers will also adapt to utilise human skillsets differently. Through it all, discussions around AI should be held among families and communities. Young people need to be aware of the benefits and risks and most importantly be able to position themselves in a world in which artificial intelligence will remain and will continue to grow.


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