Generation Alpha: The generational cohort born from 2011 to 2015. Generation Alpha are the children of the Millennial generation. Weened on cellphones, raised by robots, they are mommy’s little cyborgs.
I’m a Millennial. I have a Generation Alpha daughter. As such, I am partly responsible (that is to blame) for both the way Generation Alpha is going to turn out, and for the future world Generation Alpha is going to inherit.
That is a mildly terrifying thought.
Especially when I stop to think about the ways my generation is already screwing things up for our little Generation Alphas. I’m not “just” talking about climate change, micro-plastic pollution, increasing polarisation and extremism at the left and right ends of the political spectrum and the possibility of civilisation nuclear war (you know, the usual stuff modern parents lose sleep over) either.
I’m also concerned about the mistakes we are yet to make, the choices we are yet to enact, the policies we are yet to set into action that will have vast ripple effects throughout our little Alphas’ (very long) future lives.pollution
Here are just a few of my concerns about raising Generation Alpha:
Prescribed play and the end of childhood
With life expectancies rising well into the 100s, we should all get to be adults for long enough. And, with such long working lives ahead of us, the fleeting carefree years of childhood become even more precious. Yet Millennial parents seem determined to turn their little Generation Alphas into adults before their time.
“Formal” schooling now starts not at Grade 1, but at Grade 000 – at age three — in South Africa. Under the British school system, children as young as five get daily homework, after a school day that ends at 3 or 4pm. But that is not enough for us. My fellow Millennials seem determined to out-helicopter and out Tiger-Mom their own notorious Baby Boomer parents (and we all know how that worked out). We rush our three year olds to ballet, swimming, soccer and music lessons, and send our four year olds to “Letterland” reading classes, and junior engineering programmes on the weekend. We simply “can’t afford to let our Alphas fall behind the Joneses – or the Quans.”
The result is devastating. Our children are robbed of a childhood and rushed into a long, long adulthood without ever having any fun.
Generation Alpha is already stressed and depressed, and they haven’t even started “big school” yet. In fact, Generation Alpha is so overworked and overwhelmed doctors in the UK are prescribing play to their tiny patents. That is a truly depressing, damning indictment on Millennial parenting.
(Not to mention, in my (probably minority) opinion, school should have only one purpose: Teaching children how to read. Throw out the school syllabus altogether. Encourage enthusiastic speed readers and then let their curiosity lead them wherever it leads them, the way Victorian tutors lead their little wards back in the day. What you learn is not as important as your ability and willingness to learn. Especially in today’s day and age when information is free and freely available.)
Robot nannies and the the un-natural outsourcing of nurture
I get it we’re busy people, us Millennials. Most of us work more than one job, or at least have a “side hustle” to pay the bills. That doesn’t excuse us though, from the responsibility of raising our own children.
It’s all to easy to give in to the temptation of using a cellphone video of Pepper Pig as a pacifier for your screaming toddler, to use a screen as a baby sitter. (I know, I have given in to the temptation myself.)
And this is just the start. Some parents are now resorting to robot nannies for their little Alphas. Robo nannies such as Care Bear and iPal (below) are apparently already quite popular in China and Japan. Other parents are even using VPAs (virtual personal assistants) such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa as a make-shift baby sitter to “keep watch” over their children for short stretches of time. In fact, according to the IEEE, 40% of millennial parents are open to replace or supplement a human nanny with a stay-at-home robot nanny.
Outsourcing the “nurture” part of child rearing to machines and artificial intelligence may be convenient, but it is already having an impact on the way Generation Alpha develops.
Generation Alpha’s brains are being rewired from all that screen time — brain scans reveal the very ways their brains work are different from brains that have less exposure to technical devices. Excess screen time (that is anything more than one hour a day for three to five year olds) is correlated with attention deficit disorders, self-regulation issues, depression and bi-polar disorders.
“ [toddlers] react with tantrums and uncontrollable behaviour when their [devices] are taken away… they experience the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts” ~ Dr. Richard Graham, who oversees a technology addiction program
No amount of parental convenience should be worth inflicting those side effects on an innocent child.
(And just imagine an entire generation of rage-filed, touch-starved, ADD adults running the world in 20 or so years time.)
The digital divide and the beginnings of the “bifurcation”
Access to genetic editing technology such as CRISPR is slowing making “designer babies” become a reality. Likewise, biohacking and cyborg enhancements can turn people who have the biological and technological now-how (or financial resources to access the same) into actual super-humans, with super-human sight, strength or even sixth senses.
This means “naturally selected” Generation Alphas will, very likely, have to compete with “intelligently designed” colleagues in the future for access to jobs, work, resources and even partners.
Alphas that do not have the benefit of genetic or cyborg enhancements could find themselves at the beginning of a split in evolution of the human species (aka “The Bifurcation”) on their way to an evolutionary dead-end.
Trading privacy for peace of mind
What parent would not do anything in their power to protect their little Generation Alpha’s from harm? In a world where child kidnappings, abductions and assaults are on the rise, placing trackers onto your children, in the form of wearables (or even microchips) may seem like a good idea. Same goes for teddy bear nanny cams.
After all, we put chips in our pets to keep them safe, so how bad an idea could that be? However, in life there are always trade offs. And the trade of for the security of always knowing where your child is, is your child’s privacy.
Furthermore, if you can track your child, so can someone else… (For example, you can read up here on how vulnerable nanny cams are to hacking – and therefore, theoretically, to pedophiles too.)
If microchipping children becomes a socially accepted norm, what happens when a not-so benevolent government insists on getting access to that data and that tracker in the interests of “national security”?
Social media and the end of innocence
I recently wrote a Mind Bullet (Mind Bullets are fictional news from the future from the team of futurists over at Future World) about a child suing his parents over sharing details about his childhood on social media. The article may be fictional, but the premise is completely serious – this could very well happen.
France has already made sharing pictures of minors on social media illegal and other countries are looking to do the same.
I have no doubt in my mind Generation Alpha’s will judge us Millennials very harshly for the way we share their photographs and life stories all over our social media profiles – trading away our children’s right to privacy – for the sole purpose of getting more “likes” and followers to stroke our own fragile egos.
Not only that, all that data, and all those personal details could very well end up being used as ammunition by cyber bullets as our children grow up. Children as young as SIX YEARS OLD have committed suicide over cyber bullying.
We need to do better, be better parents to Generation Alpha.