If you’ve been lying awake at night wondering what we’re going to name the kids born after Generation Z (those who arrived between 1996 and 2009), the solution is simple: Go back to the beginning. Savvy marketers, who always pay more attention to stuff like this that you and I do, are one step ahead in this name game. Those born since 2010 have been christened Generation Alpha.
The culture watchers at MediaPost spend quite a bit of time monitoring this generational zeitgeist. Recently, Jenny Mirken penned an article titled “Here Comes Generation Alpha.” Mirken made some interesting observations about this emerging group, noting specifically how the omnipresence of technology and media is shaping their lives in a radically different way than even those born just a few years before. She writes:
My oldest nephew is about to turn 16 and my youngest just turned 5. The contrast between the worlds in which these two are growing up is striking. When my older nephew was born, in 2002, America was reeling from the events of 9/11 a year earlier, and the financial collapse of 2008 was still six years off. There was no such thing as iPhones, Facebook, streaming or Uber. There were no connected TVs; he watched his beloved Cars on DVD and told me all about it via the family landline. This boy isn’t yet old enough to drive, but his childhood already feels like a quaint yesteryear montage.
And even though we’ve been using the term “digital natives” for quite some time now, Mirken argues that the Alpha generation—that is, his 5-year-old nephew, not the 16-year-old one—will be the first for which that term is truly accurate:
While Gen Z has adapted to technology, the Alphas are native-born. They are, the first true digital generation, perhaps signaling a shift from what Tom Goodwin of Zenith Media calls the “mid-digital” to the “post-digital” age. Goodwin likens the shift to the advent of electricity. … Alphas are the center of their millennial parents’ worlds. Combined with unprecedented, instant access to information, it empowers them with an immense sense of control over their own lives. This confidence, wherewithal and know-how prime Alphas to become what [demographer Mark] McCrindle calls “the most transformative generation ever.”
I don’t know about you, but I have a mixed reaction to this reality as a parent of three kids who straddle this latest generational divide. Technology does indeed color so much of their worlds, even as my wife and I strive to place limits on it. But at the same time, they already know so much more about, and interact with, the world in ways I didn’t do until I was much older. In many ways, the world these changes has wrought is remarkable, and full of promise and potential.
But it’s scary, too, right? Just staying abreast of everything I feel like I need to know as a parent can feel overwhelming.
That said, there are some concrete—and decidedly counterintuitive—things parents can do to help their children cultivate a grounded perspective in this brave new world. In fact, these “old-fashioned” ideas might seem so basic that you could easily overlook them or dismiss them. But engaging in these five tech-detached practices can make a positive difference, creating much-needed margin to deal with everything our lightning-fast world is throwing at us.
Eat dinner together. It sounds so simple that you’ll be tempted to laugh this one off. But the act of eating together regularly has well-researched benefits, from higher self-esteem to decreased incidence of depression and engagement in multiple risky behaviors. In fact, The Family Dinner Project has been compiling research in this area for years now, offering tips on how to make this healthy habit stick.
Help your kids get to bed early. Research shows how critical sleep is for young children and adolescents. Helping them get enough sleep—which may entail getting screens of all kinds out of their bedrooms—also correlates with lower rates of risky behavior (including suicide attempts).
Work on keeping lines of communication and trust open. I know, this is a hard one as increasingly independent teens seek to establish their own identities. Still, frustrated parents need to keep communicating love and affirmation, even when teens turn moody and standoffish. New research from Arizona State University indicates that the more alienated teens feel from parents, the more likely they are to experience emotional difficulties and mental health issues.
Go to church as a family. Getting out the door on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights, Wednesday nights, or whenever) can seem like a herculean task for tired parents. But recent research from Harvard noted, “The effects of religious upbringing, including both service attendance or prayer or meditation, are profoundly positive in protecting against substance abuse and depression, as well as contributing to higher levels of happiness and volunteering.”
Get outside together. Finally, shut the screens off (you, too, Dad and Mom!) and get outside. Go on a bike ride. A walk. Play football. Or badminton. Or croquet. Go skiing. Go on hike or horseback ride. Anything, really. That’s because the health benefits, both emotionally and physically (and probably spiritually, too, for that matter) are well-documented.
The pace of technological change isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. But even as today’s Alphas grow up as digital natives, we “dinoasaur” parents from the geriatric Jurassic generations still have effective, practical and—yes, old-fashioned—tools to help them grow into healthy, hopeful and grounded adults.