Generation Alpha is growing up on social media and on-demand entertainment. What will the outcomes of screen overuse and being constantly connected be for this particular cohort – the future customers for most businesses?
While millennials (Generation Y) grew up familiar with noisy and slow dial-up internet, going from tapes to CDs to streaming, Generation Z and Generation Alpha have their own screens, instant internet, social media, the gamification of education, and podcasts.
And they will never know the anguish of not getting to a radio on time to tape their favorite song – they can just Shazam it.
Generation Alpha – born after 2010 – is what we will know this generation as, for now. They come after Generation Z, a tech-savvy generation born between 1997-2010, who dominate trends on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram Reels.
Though millennials and Generation X (boomers) have a social media presence, Gen Z and Gen Alpha literally grew up or are growing up on social media. In fact, some Gen Z kids create revenue on social media faster than any part-time summer job would allow in the past.
Gen Z enjoy visual content and creating short-form videos themselves.
But this is already marketing mantra.
“Include short-form, fun, and entertaining videos into your marketing strategy and make sure they are not too polished and stuck up. Make them real and authentic, more like user-generated content without striving for perfection,” suggests Desiree Gullan, Executive Creative Director of G&G Digital based in South Africa.
It has also been reported children under 12 and teenagers influence the purchases of their parents, amassing between $130 billion to $670 billion a year, Forbes says.
A survey done in 2019 by LEGO and The Harris Poll asked 3,000 children between the ages of eight and 12 from China, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United State of America (USA) what they wanted to be when they grew up. The options were astronaut, musician, athlete, teacher or video blogger/YouTuber. Overall, children from the US and UK were more likely to pick video blogger.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in 2019 that toddlers under the age of five should have no more than an hour a day of screen time, while infants under one should have none at all. These recommendations are intended to address the problem of sedentary behavior in children.
In the same year, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at how screen time affected the brain structure of preschoolers using MRI scans and cognitive tests. They found that toddlers spending more than an hour in front of a screen showed less development in the brain’s white matter, which is responsible for linguistic and cognitive skills.
This is significant, because the first five years are critical for brain development of a child.
Mpumelelo Malumo, entertainer and content writer, as well as parent of two, says his older child, Skylar (7) is allowed an hour on weekdays, and as much as she wants on weekends.
“I guess it’s easy for me us to maintain the balance between screen time and doing other things because our daughter is naturally adventurous. She does not crave screen time. For her, it is merely a way of passing the time. The challenge is actually finding activities for her to do so that she doesn’t get bored. It works well because we look forward to family movies as they only happen once a week,” says Malumo.
Research has also pointed to the link between regular use of handheld devices and eyestrain.
In a study done in the UK released by the College of Optometrists and Ulster University in 2016, it found nearsightedness has doubled in the last 50 years. Screen-overuse can be a risk factor for myopia, though the biggest predictor for myopia is usually having at least one nearsighted parent.
Research has suggested genetics and an increase in television as possible explanations.
However, research done at Ohio State University and from Australia found that children who spend less time outside were likely to develop myopia.
Australian researchers identified the reason spending more time inside affected eyesight – eyes get less exposure to direct sunlight. Looking at sunlight less actually changes to shape of the eyeball to become elongated.
Consequently, light gets focused on the front of the retina instead of on the retina. People see less clearly and have difficulty seeing objects far away, as a result of the change in where the eye focuses light.
The recommendation by Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, is that children should spend three hours per day outside, where light levels are 10,000 lux. A schoolroom delivers a much lower lux light, usually less than 500 lux.
Speaking with COO Vicky Moraitis of Think Digital Academy, an online school in South Africa, she says the shortfalls of always being connected to a screen can be managed.
“With so many advantages, it seems that part of the reason we have a love/hate relationship with always being connected to devices is because, despite their ability to instantly turn our children into zombies, they also have impressive capabilities,” Moraitis says.
“Screen time can offer many great opportunities for more engaged learning as technology can help a child’s progression in subjects that traditionally have had a reputation for struggling to engross students, such as math or physics.”
She adds that they try encourage children to have a balance between being connected and disconnected, with in real life (IRL) meet ups, as well as motivating them to engage in cultural/sporting clubs.
If millennials are aware of mental health issues, the environment and being health-conscious, it follows that Generation Alpha will follow suit.
Gen Z already does.
“Because they can access so much more information, they’re more aware of social, political, and economic challenges, which influence their purchasing decisions,” says Gullan. “Create campaigns that have a positive impact – theto the environment, society, economy, or to the individual via their personal development.”
Key findings from research commissioned by Hotwire, a global communications agency, revealed that as compared to millennials and baby boomers, Gen Alpha believe in fairness, especially across
genders; 95% believe in caring about the environment, and 97% believe that everyone should have enough food to eat.
While it may be too early to project what will happen in the future, this is a promising sign. While myopia may on the rise due to sitting inside with screens, and this generation may have an even shorter attention span, they may be more equitable and environmentally focused.
Something for brands and business to think about.