You’re in Kidmin, yes? Well, do you know who Generation Alpha is?
These are the kids to whom you are ministering! This new generation is SO different from Gen Z or Millennials. In fact, their parents are Millennials! Somewhere along the way we have transitioned from the millennial generation, who were introduced to social media and iPhone in their latter teens, to “Generation Alpha,” who were born into it.
Gen Alpha have typically had access to a device from their youngest years. They have been labeled as Generation Alpha (the first generation in the new millennium, born 2010-2024) and they are an entirely different entity. The oldest are already 12 years old while the youngest are yet to be born. These are our children. Do we know them? Do we understand them? Have we made appropriate adjustments for them, or are we assuming that “kids are kids”?
Probably the biggest issue we are seeing with this new generation surrounds technology and screen time. We all know that screen time has increased significantly over the past couple of years. There is even now an officially recognized source of anxiety (nomophobia) for the fear of being without your smart phone. Kids are on their devices for hours a day. In fact, Valerie Bell in her book, Resilient, calls them “Screen Disciples.” This has led to a number of concerns.
Research has shown that too much screen time affects our brain development and results in deficits in language, imagination, and emotions. In fact, it can lead to atrophy, or under developed brain networks, making it more difficult to learn. “Health Matters” magazine, from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the nation's most comprehensive academic health care delivery systems, states that, “Children spending in excess of seven hours per day on screens were found to experience thinning in the brain’s cortex.”
Screen time is also suspected of being the primary cause behind the deterioration of mental health. Too much time on devices can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, issues with sleep and even social skills. Online life is now a key part of our kids’ identity and how they interact socially. Bullying, trolling and inappropriate content used to be confined to the school yard abusive but now it follows our kids home in their back pockets.
We are also seeing the “Extension of Childishness,” meaning that our children are being exposed to information on devices so early. They become aware of life’s harsh realities sooner and they are losing their sense of wonder, innocence, and trust. They are growing up faster and at a younger age. It’s no wonder that parents are concerned.
Teachers are finding is that children are harder to “wow,” since technology provides them with instant gratification and endless entertainment. With regard to belief systems, they now have access to more opinions and more voices than ever before. In the past, for the most part, parents and church provided the strongest input, but now most of the voices coming to children are through social media and online activity, and often they don’t agree with what parents and churches are communicating.
Unfortunately, technology is here to stay. Children need devices for school and they need to know how to use them, but they also need boundaries. It is a known fact that our ability to exercise self-control comes from the prefrontal cortex of our brains which does not fully develop until adulthood, so how do we help our children live wisely? How can we combat the negative influences we are seeing, while at the same time realizing that technology is here to stay?
1. Time off
The best path from knowledge to wisdom, at any age, is to learn from first-hand experiences. Encourage your kids to explore the world beyond their screens. They are children and still need time for unstructured free play and even boredom. Yes, even boredom! Believe it or not, ‘Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen.’
Take them camping, go outside on a walk or hike, or go swimming. Play a game, together, with them. Most kids love spending time with an adult who is down on their level. Look for ways to see the world first-hand.
2. Adjust our attitudes
If we think that we can simply take away the devices, then our so-called solution might be a little simplistic. Technology isn't going anywhere. So we must learn to live with it and change our own attitudes and perhaps our actions.
If your kids complain, “I’m bored” don’t immediately shove a device into their hands. A little boredom can do wonders to our imagination. Perhaps we can pull out one of the old games that has gathered dust in our cupboard and actually play WITH our kids. Perhaps we could join them while they teach us the latest video game. Perhaps we could even snuggle on the couch with a snack and watch a movie WITH them.
We might need a little attitude and behavior adjustment ourselves. Even ask yourself, how much time do you spend on your devices? Ouch – that one comes a bit too close for comfort. Unfortunately, “do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t work with kids. They are watching everything we do, and emulating the worst of it. Our kids crave time with caring adults. Let that adult be YOU.
3. Embrace it.
I have news for you – technology is not going away! For Generation Alpha, it’s been seamlessly integrated into their lives, and they can’t imagine a world without it. It’s all they’ve ever known. Taking their devices away would be akin to ripping out their heart. We need to learn how to incorporate it a healthy way. Teach your how to search the internet carefully. How to recognize a scam, and avoid prowlers. Teach them to use it wisely. You can even combine it with your outdoor adventures. Try googling ideas for navigational activities to do while you’re taking a hike, such as geocaching, earth caching, orienteering, and GPS scavenger hunts. The internet is full of suggestions for integrating technology into your life in a beneficial way.
How do we communicate our message to the children today? The kids have changed and so has their language. And if we want to be effective in our communication, we need to speak “technology.” How have you changed your ministry approach? The biggest mistake we can make is to simply repeat the programs that we have traditionally provided, only tweaking or updating them slightly from year to year, without regard to the needs of this generation. Generation Alpha is at our front door. Let’s not lose any more!
 Iowa State University Study. 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from the phobia, and an additional 9% feel stressed when their mobile phones are off. 55% of those surveyed cited keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason that they got anxious when they could not use their mobile phones.  Valerie Bell and Matt Markins Resilient, Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church, 31.  Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Enchanted Hour New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2019, 13-14.  ‘What does too much screen time do to children’s brains?’, J. Cross, Health Matters New York-Presbyterian, accessed 11 February 2021. https://healthmatters.nyp.org/how-to-manage-kids-screen-time-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/  Jean M. Twenge et al., “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being among American Adolescents after 2012 and Links to Screen Time during the Rise of Smart Phone Technology,” Emotion, January 22, 2018.  Elmore, Tim; McPeak, Andrew. Generation Z Unfiltered: Facing Nine Hidden Challenges of the Most Anxious Population (pp. 50-51). Poet Gardner. Kindle Edition.  ‘Screen time and the brain’, D. Ruder, Harvard Medical School, 19 June 2019, accessed 11 February 2021. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain  McCrindle, Mark. Generation Alpha (pp. 104-105). Hachette Australia. Kindle Edition.