McCrindle, the firm that first coined the term Gen Alpha, gave a great presentation at the Kidscreen Summit this year that shared the habits, behaviours and nuances of the children born from 2010 onwards, the first to be entirely borne of Millennials. And in February this year that was all quite straightforward.
Then everything changed. Generation Alpha are not going to be quite who they were last February, next February.
For many, fear and anxiety are off the scale. And for others not at all.
For some education is via a well prepared Google Classroom session. And for others not at all.
For many routine and well-worn social constructs are painfully absent. Or, if you’re a COD, Fortnite or Apex addict, not at all.
For some, parents leave for work in the morning and then come home. And for others, the children of key-workers, parents may not come home in the evening...and perhaps, for a few, not at all.
The constants of our children’s lives are being messed with.
But before we get too “World War C”, let’s just remember that consumers will start consuming again. Children will have birthday parties with too many invitees. Theme parks will open and cruise lines will sail. Whoppers will be served lukewarm to eat-in, and production will ramp up again.
So, the question we’re focused on at Kids Industries through our Project C:19, is how will the children be once we’re on the other side and living the new normal? And what does it mean for the world we work in and the content, goods, and services we create?
Global consciousness considers WW1, the Great Depression, WW2, and the 2008 Financial Crisis to be the experiences from which we can scaffold an understanding of where we are and where we are headed. However, amongst many concerned with how our children will fare Post-C, Hurricane Katrina is often cited as a model for how children will respond in the years to come, as the effects of it have been studied extensively in the past 15 years since it happened. And of course in very many places right around the world, smaller but no less significant (and in many cases even more destructive to particular communities) events have decimated populations, ransacked livelihoods and obliterated education. The “now” is awful - but for many, many children there have been, and sadly will always be, significantly more testing and difficult situations.
Children have a remarkable ability to be resilient. Perhaps it is one of the characteristics that has led to our dominance on the planet. Along with having to spend increasingly less time chewing and the telling of stories. My (Gary’s) mother often talks of her father returning from Normandy in 1945 with a kit bag full of oranges. She lived in London during the blitz, spent night after night down in the shelter. But her generation, the Silent Generation, the ones that preceded the Boomers, were stoic and strong. They are the ones that gave us what we are all missing so very much now.
The impact “C” will have on family poverty and mental health issues is getting due air-time, and it is clear that as well as social and healthcare professionals, communities are coming together to support the vulnerable and make provisions. Humanity is rising. Maybe Generation Alpha will be our silent generation. Maybe their already emerging activism will be amplified and it’ll be them, like their great grandparents, that, in LEGO speak, “Rebuild the World”.
So, how is “C” going to change them? Is it? What does it mean? For the last six weeks we’ve been working to build an understanding of what Generation Alpha will be like when we get over this. And we’ll continue to develop that understanding once this is done. And there will be changes. But perhaps the changes that occur won’t be instantaneous. It is not the children that change, it is the constants in their lives that change, and then the children. It is the want of our species - to adapt and overcome.
We use a framework to set the parameters of a problem when we’re thinking about what might come next - we call these the Five Pillars of Purpose, and they give us a lens through which to focus. These are the dimensions of a child’s life that are constant and unique to their personal experience. We chose these Five Pillars because they are constant...but they’re changing.
The Pillars of Purpose are:
- Education - the structured experience of which nourishes the developing mind
- Citizenship - enables the child’s right to participate in society and nurture their self-worth
- Family - the bonds that give a child confidence and security
- Friends - fulfil the need for socialisation
- Consumption - that which the child consumes - in any form contributes to preferences
These pillars can be pulled and stretched and each gives us a jumping off point loaded with insight. So, if we take each in turn how can it help us understand how our children will be when they leave lockdown
It seems that every media outlet is a screen-based education provider now, and we would do well to remember that most learning is achieved by doing, getting hands-on and physical. And that is especially true with Alphas.
Time has been lost, examinations forfeit, league tables of schools abandoned, and knowledge gaps have definitely appeared. The education of our children has changed in fundamental and structural ways and some of it will stay changed - hopefully the bits that have changed for the better.
The leaps that education is making right now to create settings and provisions for our children are incredible. Governments across the globe are supplying laptops to children from lower-income backgrounds, wifi hotspots are being set up in regions with poor internet access, and investment is being made in digital resources that are accessible for all. And, as necessity is indeed the mother of invention, things will keep being done a little differently. Look to your market, dive into what the education authorities are doing and support, reflect, complement, and extend.
Alphas are the first truly digitally native cohort - with more screen time than any before them. Adoption and ability with devices and platforms has just been given a massive shot in the arm. But we also know that Alphas love to get outdoors, they value time with their family and, like their Millennial parents, they value experiences. Once this genie is back in its bottle, that need to experience something, anything, is going to blow sky high.
During lockdown children are consuming more media content than before, and they’re looking for new activities. With parents seeking “good” content for their children, families are reevaluating the purpose of screens faster than they ever have. Yes, they are more permissive as they try to work, but they are also rapidly improving their abilities to curate. Quality will be the winner.
Once this is over, these children may feel compelled to depart from things that are “good” towards more pure fun. Whenever our species experiences hardship we seek comedic and joyful experiences to lift spirits. During times of stress we seek the familiar. Children are watching old favourites or even content that they enjoyed when younger. Content that pushes children even further away from the screen and fulfils that suspended need for real experience will prove hugely successful.
Generation Alpha are the “young activist” generation. Although the oldest Gen Alpha children are only ten, there is evidence of their strong opinions around social issues, in particular when it comes to a subject such as equality. Things are not going to be equal at the end of this and their voice needs to be heard.
It sounds like a big number, but according to a study by Beano Studios one in five Gen Alpha children in the UK have already attended some sort of march or protest - climate change and Brexit are the primary candidates, especially since they are an environmentally conscious generation and they worry about political issues. As the coronavirus is throwing society into disarray, with people losing their jobs and struggling to stay afloat, and with visible issues around access to healthcare, Gen Alpha are going to be paying attention to societal impacts. Not in living memory has there been such an opportunity to inspire and empower children to grasp the future and make the world a better place. But we, you, and the rest of our industries need to facilitate that.
This is the stage of life where bonds with peers are formed, and right now they can’t follow through with those friendships. Children’s peer socialization is at risk as children go through isolation.
True, technology facilitates communication, but speaking to someone via a headset or screen isn’t an ideal way to observe nonverbal cues, speak to multiple people at once, or to play games. Children are resilient and social development is unlikely to be negatively impacted in the long term - provided we come through this soon. It’s the children aged seven plus who need the most social contact outside the family, and at the moment that’s being done for many via headset, Houseparty, Zoom, and whatever other platform they can land their hands on. But they are talking more rather than playing as such. And that perhaps means that bonds are actually becoming stronger as they get to know the views, opinions and attitudes of their friends. Friendship is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. We must reflect through content - and this is now more true than it has ever been. The sense of community that the world has collectively established provides a powerful platform for us to inspire the next generation to achieve everything they are capable of.
Gen Alpha children are most likely to be children of Millennials, who are having fewer children later in life, and are motivated by the notion of being a great parent and a friend to their children. The fact that families are stuck indoors together 24/7 is meaning that Gen Y and Gen Alpha are becoming even closer thanks to all the time they are spending together. For some it is very tough, but they are exploring new ways of interacting and relating to each other.
As such, lockdown may have a positive effect on family relationships - once we’re through this, there will be new models of family dynamics and new patterns of interaction that will become the norm. Families will be closer, share more and value time together more greatly. Not because social media holds up an ideal to them, but rather because they have shared a moment in history together.
Resilience is one of the cornerstones of human development, and Generation Alpha is perhaps the most resilient in recent time. And the global situation they are living through right now will change them.These children may not come out the other side of this as exactly who we expected them to be at this point in our collective timeline, but they are our future. And we reckon that our future is going to be a little bit brighter than it was before.