Raising Gen Alpha in the Great Screen Age

By: Mark McCrindle

In the last two decades technology has advanced at lightning speed, and it can be challenging for all of us – no matter what generation we are a part of – to keep up.

Especially since something we were once a little unsure of, perhaps sceptical of, is now an everyday experience at home, at work, at school and throughout society.

When we speak to parents and educators on the issue of generational differences, technology almost always comes up as to how Generation Alpha are different to generations past.

Screens also come up as a source of tension. In a recent survey we conducted, more than four in five Australians (83%) agreed that for children aged 11 and under, the use of screens causes more harm than good. On the one hand, parents and educators want to ensure children are equipped with the necessary digital skills to thrive in an increasingly technological world. On the other hand, they also want them to develop resilience, interpersonal and life skills that come from activities and interactions away from screens.

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Growing Up in the Great Screen Age

For many people, screens are the key device through which they interact. Today these devices provide games, entertainment, connectivity, and opportunities to create content. Because technology is everywhere and many people multi-screen, it can be difficult to monitor. For many households, there is no longer a designated computer room. Now, the computer is in the pocket of most individuals who live there. In this world, you can’t just turn off the internet, because it is wireless. Children using devices are just a few clicks away from any piece of information on the planet. Their interactions online are harder to control and navigate.

The Challenges and Benefits of the Great Screen Age

Boy playing game on ipad
Photo by Emily Wade on Unsplash

Technology has incredible power and provides great opportunities. Technology in any era is designed and intended to create connection, to remove burdens and create better opportunities for our future. Parents see that purpose of technology. But they also see how it gets used, abused and misused.

Children today have incredible power at their fingertips, more than any other generation in history. They can access any piece of information on the planet. They can put something in the public sphere that goes viral. They can access learning and communicate with anyone across the world. But with the world literally at their fingertips comes great responsibility. For parents, a great requirement is to help children manage that responsibility. To provide safeguards and support for them, particularly as they move from immaturity to maturity, as they move from dependence to independence, which is where we want to see them get to as they grow up.

Social Skills vs Skills Needed For the Future

While children today are being shaped in the great screen age, the future for Generation Alpha is not a tech centric one. Rather, it is a human centric one. People will be at the core. Technology will be a part of it and we will need people with tech skills for roles that involve cybersecurity, coding, Artificial Intelligence and robotics. Technology is key to many roles and sectors. But because the technology will come and go, we will do well to focus on the uniquely human skills, as they will become more important in a more machine-assisted future. It will be people skills, communication skills and leadership skills that will be required of Generation Alpha in the future.

Transferable skills that will be relevant across every job, sector, industry, and role will be the people skills. And that’s why we will do well to ensure that children develop those skills. It is the role of parents and leaders to ensure children understand technology and see the productivity benefits, but they will also need to be able to function in the world outside of technology.

Encouraging Digital Intelligence

Girl taking photo of plant on iphone (1)
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As we lead and parent Generation Alpha, it’s important to note that their online social life is just as important as their in-person social life. Here are some tips to help Generation Alpha build digital intelligence from a young age:

1 – Give Respect

Encourage children to respect everyone they meet online, using the manners they would use in person.

2 – Practise and Teach About Empathy

Encourage children to consider different points of view before responding to something. Discuss why people have different points of view – and explain that just because it’s different, it doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong.

3 – Encourage Scepticism

Teach children to be critical of what they read and see when on the internet. Give them standard questions to help them identify fake news or misleading messages. Explain why they should be suspicious of unsolicited messages and emails and encourage them to have a healthy scepticism of social media, apps and why these platforms are collecting personal data.

4 – Promote and Model Balance

Work on achieving a healthy balance in children’s online and offline activities and ensure strong passwords and boundaries are set for digital device use. Try using family passwords, limit time on devices and set operational hours on internet routers to encourage time off screens and promote meaningful connection.

5 – Find Moments to Teach and Foster Resilience

Keep calm if your child encounters a negative experience online and look for ways to teach them about the learning from the situation.

Gen Alpha book

Article supplied with thanks to McCrindle.

About the Author: McCrindle are a team of researchers and communications specialists who discover insights, and tell the story of Australians – what we do, and who we are.

Feature image: Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash  

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