article photo of a Person holding phone and using ChatGPT app to communicate with artificial intelligence by Dr. Sam Goldstein
Photo: Diego -

As with any complex issue, there has been a lot of talk lately about whether artificial intelligence will ultimately take over the world and be our rulers. On a practical level, artificial intelligence has slowly progressed to successfully taking on more and more complex vocational activities. But will it ever replace the work of mental health professionals, physicians, or business advisors? At this point in its development ChatGPT (or Chat for short) cannot get down on the floor of my office and interact with a two and a half-year-old suspected of having Autism. From my perspective, Chat can do two things. First, it is a very efficient search engine that finds and gathers information on a particular topic or a response to a question very quickly. Second, it is able to gather such information and when requested create new content from existing knowledge.

This month I decided to invite Chat to join me, in responding to a dozen common questions from parents and then to create original content. Chat diligently gathered copious knowledge however, the information was too broad, too general and much like a horoscope. This is fine if you are searching the web for guidance for your child. It is not fine if you are seeking a professional’s help. Further, after asking Chat to answer a dozen diverse questions I realized that Chat’s advice was nearly identical for every question. I have edited Chat’s responses to two questions. The answers below reflect our partnership. I also asked Chat to generate ten general tips for parents in a style consistent with my past writings. Let’s start with the two questions:

Question: My six-year-old child is afraid of the dark and will not sleep alone. What can I do to help her?

Answer: Most children at some point will express fear of the dark, particularly at night. For some children this reflects a true fear of the unknown. For others it may be a means of avoiding bedtime. Here is what Chat and I suggest you do:

  1. Speak to your child. Let them know that everyone at times feels fear of the dark. Assure him that you will help and they are not in danger.
  2. Problem-solve with your child about what would help her feel comfortable such as a night light in the room, reading them a story or even sitting with them for a short period of time. I have had success with some children bringing a favorite stuffed animal or blanket for comfort. One child asked for a picture of his parents that he could look at near his bed. If you are going to sit with your child, gradually decrease the amount of time you spend. Be patient, do not rush, praise your six-year-old for their progress.
  3. If your child’s fear of the dark limits their sleep time and continues to cause significant distress, speak to your pediatrician for further guidance and possibly referral to a mental health professional. Remember that change takes time.
Question: My teenager refuses to complete his homework. What can I do to help him meet his responsibilities?

Answer: We are not sure who invented homework but we know for sure that at any age homework is not typically a welcome activity. By high school a significant amount of what youth learn, they teach themselves through reading and homework completion. The volume of knowledge we expect children to acquire and retain in their high school years is simply too much to expect that it all be completed at school. In the elementary grades homework is an opportunity for children to learn to work independently. Yet many parents are more concerned about completing the homework than their children developing homework independence. Often these children progress to middle and senior high school absent the knowledge and competence to complete homework independently. For other children homework at times may masquerade as incomplete school work, sometimes because the work is beyond their capabilities yet other times because they struggle with attention and efficiency. It is important to understand the reasons your youth struggles with homework before trying to improve the problem. Here is what we suggest:

  1. Set clear expectations. Homework is a non-negotiable responsibility. It is expected that he/she complete it independently. Develop a system for your teen to seek your assistance and for you to review their progress.
  2. Establish a routine. Help him learn to schedule sufficient time to complete homework during the week and on weekends.
  3. Encourage intrinsic motivation. Help your teen appreciate work today predicts success in the future. Help them appreciate that the knowledge acquired in doing homework that is valuable is not simply the completion of the work.
  4. Offer praise and positive reinforcement when work is completed.
  5. Provide appropriate support if the work is excessive or beyond the youth’s capabilities. It is important to approach this issue with patience and empathy. It is important to not allow challenges with homework to disrupt your relationship with your youth.

I also asked Chat to generate ten guideposts for parents based on my writings. I can only assume that Chat became familiar with my work through everything I have published and/or appears on the worldwide web. With slight editing on my part, here are the ten suggestions Chat offered:

  1. Focus on your child’s strengths or what we refer to as islands of competence. Every child has unique abilities and talents. As a parent, it is important to recognize and encourage these strengths to help your child build confidence and self-esteem.
  2. Be consistent with rules and consequences. Children require structure and consistency to feel secure. Establish clear rules and consequences for behavior and enforce them consistently.
  3. Foster independence and problem-solving skills. Encourage your child to take on age-appropriate responsibilities and teach them problem-solving skills. This helps them develop a sense of competence and self-reliance.
  4. Create a positive home environment. Children thrive in a positive and supportive environment. Show your child love, respect, and kindness, and provide a safe and nurturing home environment.
  5. Set realistic expectations. Expecting too much from your child can lead to frustration and disappointment. Set realistic expectations based on their age, abilities, and temperament.
  6. Listen, learn and then communicate effectively. Listening to our child’s concerns and communicating effectively can help build trust and understanding. Encourage open and honest communication, and be an active listener.
  7. Provide opportunities for play and creativity. Play is essential for children’s development, and creativity fosters imagination and problem-solving skills. Provide opportunities for your child to play and be creative.
  8. Focus on positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment in promoting positive behavior. Use praise, rewards, and positive attention to reinforce good behavior. Avoid negative reinforcement or paying attention to your child when they are not doing what you want and removing your attention when they comply. This will only increase future problems.
  9. Take care of yourself. Being a parent can be stressful, and it is important to take care of your own physical and emotional needs. Take time for yourself, practice self-care, and seek support when needed.
  10. Seek professional help when necessary. If you are concerned about your child’s development or behavior, seek professional help. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your child’s future success and happiness.

So what have I learned from this endeavor? Chat is great at gathering, collating and even re-working complex factual information. In order to help Chat advance its career, I have accepted Chat as my intern for the coming year. I hope to help Chat develop the clinical acumen to not just regurgitate facts but to truly understand human nature and provide effective guidance and support for families in need. ◆