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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The “Goodbye Fears Monster”: An Ethics Case Study

The “Goodbye Fears Monster”: An Ethics Case Study

Adapted from a case by Irina Raicu

You might know (or remember) that some little kids find it difficult to fall asleep at night because of various fears. The “Goodbye Fears Monster” is designed to respond to those fears. The teddy-bear-like “Goodbye Fears Monster” (“GFM” for short) is soft, roly-poly, and comes in a variety of colors; what makes it unique, however, are its interactive features. The toy is designed to “listen” and respond to a child who speaks to it.

When a child is getting ready to go to sleep, he or she can press GFM’s belly button; that action turns on the toy’s microphone, hidden in its fur. The child can then tell the “monster” all of his or her fears. Once the child stops speaking, the monster replies, “I will eat all of those fears! Nom nom nom. There. They’re gone. Are you worried about anything else?” The process repeats until the child has no more worries to detail.  At that point, GFM gently replies, “Well, then, now we can close our eyes and go to sleep in peace”—and turns off the microphone.

The child’s statements are recorded, and all of the recordings are made available to the child’s parents—sent directly to the parents’ phones, via a companion app.

Marketing materials that accompany GFM tell prospective customers that the interactive toy will allow young children to express fears that they might not otherwise disclose to anyone; that reassured children might sleep better (which, of course, would allow parents to sleep better, too); and that the recordings will give parents new insights into their child’s thinking.

The manufacturing company also promises to share the recordings (at no cost) with child psychology researchers, in the hope that the data collected will promote the development of new therapies or other methods to alleviate common childhood fears.

As part of the promotion of this new (rather expensive) toy, the toy makers propose to distribute free GFMs to children living in homeless shelters throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders involved? Who should be consulted about such a project’s goals and development?
  2. How might this project be evaluated through the ethical 'lenses' of rights, justice, utilitarianism, the common good, virtue ethics, and care ethics?
  3. In this project, what moral values are potentially conflicting with each other? Is there any way to reconcile them? If so, how?