If you are around kids at all in the 2020s, you know one thing for sure; children live in an entirely different world — one that few of us even begin to recognize.
Their day to day, lived reality, is alien to the previous several generations, if not all of humanity.
You have certainly heard of boomers, millennials and Generation Z.
Generation Z (aka, Gen Z) refers to the generation of Americans born from 1997 to about 2012. The oldest members of Gen Z have graduated from high school and are starting their adult lives, with new careers and, possibly, families; the youngest are 10.
If you were wondering what could come after “Z,” you are in good company.
To sum up the generation that was born into a world like no other, someone came up with the term “Alpha”.
Generation Alpha came into being in 2010, the year the iPad was launched, Instagram was created and “app” was the word of the year.
They are the first generation of children to be shaped in an era of, not just computers, but portable (and ever-present) digital devices, and, for many, (especially in public places, like grocery stores) their pacifiers have not been a rattle or a set of keys but a smartphone or tablet.
With screens in front of them, essentially since birth, their encounters with the “real” and tangible (as opposed to virtual) world have been limited.
And the obvious had to happen; they are less proficient in practical skills, assessing and approaching risk and setting and achieving goals.
And they face hazards few of us could have imagined just a few years ago — like cyber-bullying and harassment — and worse.
Their technology knows no traditional boundaries and neither do their blogs, friendships and vocabulary.
While digital skills and creativity are high, critical thinking skills are ranked low among this generation, even, or maybe even especially, by their own parents.
To most of them, “literacy” has little to do with a printed page — the preferred mode is to watch a video summarizing a topic or situation rather than read an article discussing it.
For better or worse, Gen Alpha will have access to more information — and possibilities than any other generation, and the projection is that half of Generation Alphas will acquire a university degree.
Besides opportunities, unique and unforeseen challenges have emerged; screen addiction, cyber bullying and the management of child-friendly content are only a few.
These challenges have been years, if not generations in the making; millennial parents of Generation Alpha have themselves been immersed, if not defined by the digital world.
And they, and what they believe, know and care about, could not be more alien to most of us — even their parents or those just a few years older.
These are not only “digital natives”, born into a digital, screen-based, computer defined world, they are what could be called “analog aliens” — most of them have little, if any, history or encounter, and certainly little identification with the “hands-on” non-computer mediated reality literally every generation before them took as the most basic reality.
Who needs the three “Rs”?
Classrooms, conversations and summer camps are not about s’mores and YA novels, but sessions on robotics, coding, social media marketing, app development and big data analytics might be.
They might have a hard time reading a printed newspaper, but putting together a YouTube video comes as second nature.
For all the talk about “traditional values”, this generation is, for all intents and purposes, cast adrift in a sea of screens, junk food, pop culture, costumed super heroes and, for most, an atmosphere of being continually entertained and distracted.
And, for most, a lack of real connection with the larger culture. And environment.
What few of them do have is a sense of belonging, purpose, direction and meaning -too many of them, as a result, feel known or needed.
In contrast to those who froth about “traditional values”, a life of purpose and direction is not based on who is allowed to marry whom or even any grievance about “those” people (as in immigrants, among many others).
Real “traditional values” are those that embrace and express those beliefs, values and actions that confirm, often unconsciously, the traditions of any given culture.
We, as a culture, used to admire honesty and hard work, discipline and helpfulness. To be “of service” used to be a common thread through virtually every religious tradition.
Resilience and resourcefulness used to be a primary human (and certainly American) characteristic that every child absorbed and expressed.
But they are certainly rare now.
In short, far too many young people don’t have a stake, or “skin in the game” when it comes to actual values of any “traditional”