We’ve all been watching the rise of Gen Z as they replace millennials to dictate the rules of today’s cultural capital – but what comes next? Generation Alpha: what will they be like? They’re set to become the largest generation in history, and it won’t be long before members of Gen Alpha are driving youth culture and popular media. So what will their tastes and values – and the world they influence – look like?
We’ve all been watching the rise of Gen Z as they replace millennials to dictate the rules of today’s cultural capital – but what comes next? Generation Alpha: what will they be like? Yes, many of them are still being born, but some born in the 2010s are already old enough to be expressing distinct tastes and personalities.
“Alphas are aged eleven years and under and will soon outnumber baby boomers.”- Sunrise, Seven Network
They’re set to become the largest generation in history (projected to be almost 2 billion by their generation cut-off year of 2025).
“They’re likely to see in the next century and work in jobs that don’t yet exist.”- Sunrise, Seven Network
And they’re already noticeably “sophisticated,” according to Australian social analyst Mark McCrindle, who coined the term “Generation Alpha”. It won’t be long before members of Gen Alpha are driving youth culture and popular media. So what will their tastes and values – and the world they influence – look like?
Leslie Knope: “The children. The children are our future.” -Parks and Recreation
Here’s our take on how Gen Alpha might leave their mark.
CHAPTER ONE: An Empowered, Informed Generation in a Time of Instability
By the time Generation Alpha starts directing the conversation, the Earth might be a fundamentally different place. With crises ranging from climate change to political polarization to pandemics, it’s safe to say Gen Alpha will inherit a world with unprecedented challenges and instability.
Sidney Milkis: “We’re in a really dangerous place in American politics.” -PBS News Hour
But although Gen Alpha has a lot to overcome, they’re also more empowered to do something about it. Even in their own households, kids have a lot more power and influence than previous generations: 9 in 10 parents say kids influence family purchase decisions.
“Popular junk food products often use cartoon characters and even have their own websites, apps, social media pages, and Interactive games.”- Common Sense Media
Some brands are already actively marketing to Gen Alpha because they have so much purchasing power before even reaching middle school. And with the rise of mommy Instagram, Gen Alpha’s needs are also at the heart of an explosion of products for kids being marketed to millennial parents. Gen Alpha is growing up with parents who are highly focused on providing them with the best resources they can, whether that means buying keto baby food or customized vitamin,
Dr. Cywes: “We add a little bit of chicken bone broth to it, maybe some ghee and we puree it up and we put the puree in these silicone molds”- #CarbAddictionDoc
or being attentive to their kids’ mental and emotional wellness. In contrast to the “suck it up” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitudes of previous generations, today’s most popular parenting resources are all about “gentle parenting,” a philosophy that’s attuned to the emotional needs of the child rather than shaming or punishing their behavior.
Social and emotional intelligence are also emphasized in children’s media. Some who criticize millennials as being over-coddled by their own helicopter parents have expressed concerns that Gen Alpha are getting that hyper-protected childhood experience on overdrive. Still, all this attention contemporary parents are devoting to nurturing Gen Alpha as kind, caring and emotionally mature individuals is something that previous generations really didn’t get to the same degree – and that will hopefully benefit both them and the world they go on to impact.
The trends we’re seeing in children’s media likewise suggest unprecedented focus on modern values like sustainability and social justice.
Elmo: “Elmo wants to know why Wes’ skin is brown.” Wes: “Oh, I know why Elmo my mom and dad told me. It’s because of melanin”.- Sesame Street
Kids have access to such high-complexity information at such a young age, it’s already changing the way that they learn. According to Jennifer A. Kingson, “They’re unusually visual in how they consume content, highly networked in how they socialize, and global in their outlook and perspective.”
“If only gay people could marry you’d be really sad, so why shouldn’t they be able to marry?”- REACT
CHAPTER TWO: The Technological Generation
Gen Alpha is coming of age during an unstable time, but also a time of incredible interconnectivity. Our technology-infused world is all that Generation Alpha has ever known.
“The year they were born, 2010, was the year the iPad was invented, Instagram was launched word of the year was ‘app’ in that year.” - Sunrise, Seven Network
Their whole lives are built around modern information and communication technologies, from Zoom school to parenting apps that give young children jobs and structure their relationship to work and money. And despite the rising popularity of “anti-social” platforms like BeReal, the social internet isn’t going anywhere. By the time Gen Alpha enters the workforce, jobs in the tech sector are only expected to increase – according to Business Insider, software developers and information analysts will be among the highest-paid workers in 2030.
Gen Alpha are also growing up in an era where the nature and experience of the internet is evolving. Whereas older generations may still think of the web as a place you go to look up information or find your existing friends, thanks to the highly specific nature of algorithms on TikTok, Youtube, and beyond, young people expect everything they encounter, whether it’s memes, trends, or information, to be relevant to them and their specific interests.
James Bridle: “Using the same mechanism that Facebook and Instagram are using to get you to keep checking that app and they’re using it on Youtube to hack the brains of very small children in return for advertising revenue.”- TED Talks
It’s a world where TikTok and Twitter are replacing traditional search engines – which raises questions about the risks of being shaped by unreliable information. But it’s also a time of growing, pervasive skepticism about social media, from its effects on democracy to the concerning impact of “passive” screen time on young people’s mental health.
“The longer amount of time they spend on screens, the worse their social and emotional development.”- ABC News
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, the quality of screen time matters just as much as the quantity. Many parents are now aware that it’s their job to oversee not just how much but also what kind of content Gen Alpha are taking in and to participate in helping their kids actively engage with good stories or productive learning resources.
“I think parents are trying to catch up. We all think we’ve done the right thing by handing over all this technology, but now we’re all realizing there’s a problem.”-60 Minutes
As kids grow into young adults, The effects of access to the web can be literally life-or-death – on the one hand, youths can be exposed to graphic, morbid content or dangerous communities. On the other, when used safely, the internet can be a great way to learn new skills and find educational and social opportunities, or for LGBTQ kids to access community and support.
So the very urgent challenge this generation (and their parents) are navigating is how to use the internet productively while minimizing the risks. Educational children’s media can model this from a very young age– for example, Sesame Street has a new character who is literally a smartphone who helps Elmo navigate the internet to learn about the world.
“What do we do to learn something new? We look! It! Up!”- Sesame Street
And the Australian show Bluey, that’s become a global hit, de-emphasizes screentime
“Not too long on that, kids.” (Bluey then show the parents on their phones)- Bluey
while offering an alternative to the endless scroll: play. Most episodes center simply on Bluey, her sister, and her parents making up imaginary scenarios and getting absorbed in play.
Treating play as a core value for both parents and kids has proven benefits on social, mental, and physical health. Participating in interactive play with a parent helps kids regulate their emotions better and even lowers levels of stress chemicals.
CHAPTER THREE: A Shift in Schools
Another big open question at the heart of Gen Alpha is education.
“The pandemic has still left a profound impact, very much so, on our children and their learning and development.”- ABC News
Kids are struggling academically as their early childhood education and socialization patterns have been massively disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s school closures. Around 1 in 5 children from age 3-17 have experienced serious mental health issues, young people have dealt with increased rates of abuse, and there are already signs that the pandemic has worsened inequality in education.
But going forward, schools and education can also help alleviate all this. In a weird way, the losses of the pandemic can inspire us to reinvest in those values that were so compromised in 2020 and 2021 – like “school connectedness,” which is highly important for youths according to the CDC.
Robin Gurwith: “One of the things that is so important for children is having a schedule or a routine. Well, that has gone by the wayside.”- Science Magazine
Having a strong connection to school and peers provides structure and community for young people (and decreases feelings of depression and suicidal ideation).
We know from history that disruptions to school connection can have long-term impacts on educational achievement and mental health. In the late ’50s and continuing through the ‘60s, Prince Edward County in Virginia chose to close schools for five years rather than integrate them, leaving Black families to either send their kids away to get an education or forgo traditional schooling. The kids who were affected carry emotional trauma to this day, and the community has never recovered.
During the Cold War, children who were barraged with news stories about the risks of nuclear weapons were found to be more anxious, and prone to apathy and cynicism. We’re seeing something similar in youths today who (thanks to today’s highly connected, online world) are constantly bombarded with reminders of the pandemic and other potential crises: rates of both depression and anxiety in children may have doubled since early 2020. And much like the kids of Prince Edward County in the 1960s, kids today are seeing their schools become increasingly politicized. Schools became a major site of tension around COVID-19 safety policies.
Eric Adams: “We are going to do everything we have to do to keep our schools open.”- CBS News
“I’d rather my kids be safe and not get sick.”- CBS News
And since then, there’s been national panic over the largely manufactured concept of “Critical Race Theory,” as well as protests of anti-gay and transgender laws that restrict what children are allowed to learn and talk about in school.
“My parents are same-sex, but we’re still a normal family and I think people should sort of treat us like that”- ABC ME
All this has turned schools into an element of childhood that is fundamentally contested for Gen Alpha. But again, there is hope: even though Gen Alpha may be young, there are signs they’re thinking for themselves and not afraid to speak up against policies they don’t think are right.
“So if your teacher was a boy and was talking about his husband, do you think that he should get in trouble for that?” “No.”- REACT
Some members of Gen Alpha are already politically engaged. Kids as young as 8 have organized around issues ranging from racial justice to climate justice.
Bandi Guan: ”So if we don’t learn about climate change and take it seriously we won’t have a future on earth at all.”- TED Talks
They’ve watched teens not that much older than them (and too young to vote) influence a Presidential election through TikTok.
Down the line, these young, socially aware and activated kids could have real opportunity to put their values into action: in American politics, our leaders are overwhelmingly older people, mostly baby boomers, who have been in their positions for decades.
John Liber: “Biden isn’t the only aging American holding onto power in the United States. The Speaker of the House is 82 years old. Her second in command is 83. ”-GZERO
That’s meant boxing out younger would-be leaders among Gen X, millennials, and Gen Zers.
“But we’re the people who voted you. You’re supposed to– that’s your job.” “How old are you?” “Sixteen.” “Well you didn’t vote for me.”- ABC 7
But when Gen Alpha comes of age, it will be highly unlikely that boomers will still be clogging up all those positions of power.
Although Gen Alpha will be aging into an uncertain world, they’re also growing up with core values that will help them navigate this uncertainty – values like moderation and play, justice, and connection. They’ll have already seen their older siblings and cousins in Gen Z fight to improve things through their commitment to the environment, inclusiveness and social justice. Hopefully, by then we’ll all be working to create a better world, so Gen Alpha can be prepared to handle whatever comes at them.
“The perfect world would be, like, no wars and electric cars because gasoline is bad for the environment.” Small Talk, CBC Kids