According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population projections, the Boomer generation—defined by births following World War II—is shrinking in size. But as both the Millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) and Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) step up in sheer size, it may actually be their children who will command all of the attention as we enter 2020. That’s because their kids, otherwise known as Generation Alpha, will be growing up in a very different world from the one we've known.
According Adage, Generation Alpha is being classified as kids born in or after 2010. And while they're not expected to evolve into a new generation until 2025 (it isn’t until early adulthood that they, like the generations that came before them, will define who they are within our cultural history) researchers are already paying attention to what may shape who they are destined to become. Here are a few things we know already about Gen Alpha.
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Diversity will have a positive effect on Alpha kids.
In Congress, nonwhites have risen to 22 percent and women to 24 percent, and in the House of Representatives the median age is lowering, according to the Pew Research Center. This type of growing diversity may very well make Gen Alpha more accepting and inclusive, explains Deborah Carr, professor and chair of the sociology department of Boston University and author of Golden Years? Social Inequalities in Later Life.
“They’re growing up in a more diverse society, so they’re more open-minded about those who are different from themselves. The kids of Millennials are a source of great optimism that we are moving toward a society that is inclusive and accepting.”
Technology will define them, one way or another.
“This generation will have great comfort with technology, watching videos on their parents’ iPads and listening to music on their iPhones. They may be particularly good at visual learning,” says Carr.
But while all that screen time may be a great tool of distraction, education, entertainment, and more for parents, there are some consequences for Alpha kids that we can’t quite yet know. For example, long term studies are just now being done on how screen time affects developing brains, and early results are not all great news. Researchers recently made headlines when they discovered that excessive screen time in young kids is leading to under development of parts of the brain.
Social media will be their new "record".
And how will social media in particular affect Alpha’s future social status?
“Previous generations didn’t have to consider the digital footprint that parents were leaving of their children while they are still minors,” says Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and adjunct professor at St. John’s University. She points out that every image, every word posted online about a child ultimately becomes a part of their online portfolio. While Gen X worried about their permanent record, Gen Alpha might have to worry about Instagram, and even their parent's old Facebook page.
“[This is] information which can later be accessed when that now adult is trying to gain admission into a program, advance his or her career, or run for public office,” Dr. Zeltser explains. “We have yet to see the long-term implications of these digital footprints, so without knowing if this will be helpful or harmful to Alpha children, it’s important to be mindful about what you post.”
They will know why mental health matters.
All of that online time presents a unique parenting challenge for Millennial and Gen X parents, too. Getting parenting advice is no longer a simple affair, it is now rife with social aggressions that is affecting the mental health of Millennials. Mom shaming, for example, is leaving many Millennials in a race to become the perfect parent. This is why we see so many squeaky clean images on Instagram of smiling kids and well-dressed moms in pristine kitchens or quaint outdoorsy scenes. What we don’t often see are the messy and frustrating parts of parenthood and that division of realty versus fantasy sets up mothers in particular for a negative feedback loop that only fuels the mom guilt.
- RELATED: Why Moms Mom-Shame
So how does that affect Gen Alpha? Surprisingly, it may be showing kids that mental and emotional health are no less important than physical health. 2019 was the year of “self-care” in which Millennial and Gen X moms took to social media enforce to shift the culture of parenting online and many brought their Alpha kids along for the ride by posting about the importance of giving kids “mental health days” off from school.
They may prioritize the planet over becoming parents.
When Millennial parents first joined the work force, the economy bottomed out into crushing recession. That was a defining force in how they approached family planning, and as a result, many Millennials waited longer to settle down and had fewer kids. Gen Alpha, however, will be facing more and more problems related to climate change as they enter their teenage years and early adulthood. Knowing the strain the growing population has on the planet may very well influence Gen Alpha's choice to have kids at all.
The Bottom Line
Today's parents (and grandparents, too) can expect to see a new generation of people who are more accepting of differences, more socially adept, tech-savvy, and perhaps more cognizant of complex issues like climate change. And while that may sound like a lot to saddle on a single generation, we have a feeling these spritely young people will turn out to be even more extraordinary than anyone could have guessed.