By: Gary Pope and Aleksandra Szczerba
McCrindle, the firm that first coined the term Gen Alpha, gave a great presentation at the Kidscreen Summit this year that shared the habits, behaviors and nuances of the children born after 2010, the first born entirely to Millennials. In February, Gen Alpha’s habits, behaviors and nuances were all quite straightforward.
Then everything changed.
The global pandemic and lockdowns mean that Generation Alpha won’t be who they were in February. While the pandemic has, en masse, shut the world down, its effect on kids’ lives won’t be felt equally among all.
For many, fear and anxiety are off the scale. And for others not at all. For some education is being delivered via a well prepared digital classroom session. And for others not at all. For some, parents “head” to work in the mornings at kitchen tables. And for others, kids of essential workers, some parents may not come home in the evenings…and perhaps for a few, they won’t come home at all.
This isn’t permanent: Children will have birthday parties with too many invitees again. Down the line, theme parks will open and cruise lines will sail. Whoppers will be served lukewarm to eat-in, and production will ramp back up.
So, the question we’re focused on at Kids Industries, through our Project C:19 study (an ongoing ethnographic study that seeks to identify how families have changed as a result of the current global pandemic), 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?
There are a few global experiences that seep into our collective consciousness, no matter the age. In terms of sheer disruption, the First and Second World Wars, and the Great Depression and 2008 Great Recession spring to mind. September 11, too, shaped a generation of kids.
Yet, children have a remarkable ability to be resilient. Kids who came of age during the First and Second World Wars are often called the Silent Generation. They came of age during a time of chaos and devastation. They dealt with the uncertainty by keeping their heads down, and working hard. They were stoic and strong.
COVID-19′s impact on family poverty and mental health is getting due air-time, and communities have rallied behind healthcare workers and vulnerable peoples. Humanity is rising, and our kids are watching. Will Generation Alpha be the next “silent generation?” Will their already emerging activism be amplified? Will they rebuild the world because of their shared year of pandemic pain?
We don’t know, of course, and it will take years to glean how this global event impacts kids. In the short term, we are using a framework of five pillars as a lens through which to view our audience.
With children’s companies rushing to find ways to help kids on lockdown, it seems that every media outlet is now a screen-based education provider. But we would do well to remember that most learning is achieved by doing—getting hands-on and physical.
Time has been lost, examinations forfeit and knowledge gaps will continue to appear. The education of our children has changed in fundamental and structural ways and some of it will stay changed as educators embrace more flexible ways of teaching and the use of digital space like never before. There will be winners and losers the the digital divide widening. But there is some good news as public/private partnerships emerge all over the world and the sharing of resources becomes more common place.
The leaps that education is making right now to create settings and provision 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.
For companies looking to make a meaningful difference to kids’ lives, rather than offering educational resources (and risk getting lost in the crowd), why not look to your market, dive into what the education authorities are doing and support, reflect, complement and extend.
It should come as no surprise that this is the first truly mobile native cohort. The lockdown has shot adoption of device usage in the arm. But we also know that Alphas love to get outdoors, they value time with their family and—like their Millennial parents—experiences. We were already seeing shifts in consumption as kids increasingly valued doing stuff over things. Once lockdowns begin to lift, the need to experience something—anything—is going to blow sky high.
For content consumption, expect to see shifts as well. Kids have watched more content on lockdown than ever before, and parents have become permissive in screen usage. But generally, we’re seeing that parents are seeking “good” content for their children, and families are reevaluating the purpose of screens more than they ever have. In the end, quality will be the winner—and that’s not likely to change on the other side of lockdown.
Whenever our species experiences hardship we seek comedic and joyful experience to lift spirits. During times of stress we seek the familiar. Children are watching old favourites or even content that they enjoyed when younger.
We may even see these two trends coalesce, and creators looking to get ahead should consider that content that pushes children even further away from the screen and fulfils that suspended need for joyful fun will likely prove hugely successful.
Generation Alpha are the “young activist” generation. Although oldest gen alpha children are only 10, the evidence abounds when it comes to theirstrong opinions around social issues, particularly around subjects such as equality. As we mentioned previously, things have not been equal through this pandemic crisis. Once the crisis abates, things are not going to be equal, and the voices of those who’ve suffered will need to be heard.
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 being the primary candidates. As COVID-19 throws society into disarray with people losing their jobs and struggling to stay afloat, and with visible issues around access to healthcare, Gen Alpha will be paying attention to societal impacts. Not in living memory has there been such an opportunity to empower children to think about the world they want to live in, and inspire them to make the world a better place. What role, however, the kids industry plays in facilitating that big-picture thinking, is up to you.
This is the stage of life where bonds with peers are formed, and right now they can’t follow through with those friendships. In lockdown isolation, children’s peer socialization is at risk. 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—key tenants in childhood social development.
But children are resilient and social development is unlikely to be negatively affected in the long term (provided we come through this soon).
Kids over seven need the most social contact outside the family, and at the moment that’s being done for many via headset, Houseparty, or whatever other platform they can get their hands on. And, perhaps this talking-heavy interaction means that bonds kids are forming will be stronger and more developed as they lean into conversations with friends.
Friendship is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life, and we must reflect that through content. We can start by making sure our content showcases the shifted sense of community that the world collectively established during the pandemic, and the deeper bonds between friends that may have been cultivated online, rather than in person. Things won’t go back to normal, once this is all over, and we should strive to reflect the new friend realities our young audiences have cultivated.
The kids are being forced into confined quarters with their parents, mostly Millennials who were likely to have had fewer kids later in life and are currently motivated by ultimate #parentgoals. This, again, isn’t great for everyone, but on the whole, it does mean Gen Y and Alpha are becoming closer as they spend time together.
And 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 because they have shared a moment in history together.
These children may not come out the other side of this as exactly who we expected them to be, but they are our future. And we reckon that our future is going to be a little bit brighter than it was before.
Kids Industries is a vertically integrated marketing services business specializing in the family. Through insight, strategy and creative, KI makes the family brands they work with stronger and more profitable. Global clients include: BBC Studios, LEGOLAND, Warner Media, Disney and Royal Caribbean.