When I moved to America, I came on a student visa. I spent the next 18 months completing my Master’s degree, and during that time, I met my husband. Once I graduated, we were married and I needed to change my legal status in order to be able to remain in the country. I received a “Green card” and became a “Legal Resident Alien.” It was an interesting category - "legal resident alien". I was considered a foreigner in my new adopted country.
These kids we deal with today might seem like resident aliens to us. They belong here but are definitely “foreign,” at least to us. They are unique in their characteristics and needs, and are growing up in a whole new world. If we want to be effective, we need to understand them.
Young people today often receive a bad rap from those who have gone before, but negative stereotyping and generalizing are not helpful. Some will view this new generation as device addicted, overindulged, and unreliable, but those who are discerning might see their potential as resilient, digitally savvy, creative and confident. Perhaps they are a bit of both, but either way, we must seek to truly understand them and their unique needs.
Different Kids, Different Needs
The children we are working with are different from their millennial predecessors. In fact, the millennials are now the parents of the children in our ministries. Generation Z are now the teens and young adults, and are now aging out of Kid's Ministry. The next generation are already here.
Born between 2010 and 2024, they have been labeled “Generation Alpha” (the first generation to be born entirely within the 21st century). The oldest are already 12 years old while the youngest are yet to be born. These are our kids. Do you know them? Do you understand them? Have you made appropriate adjustments for them, or are we assuming that “kids are kids”?
A research analyst from Australia was researching the emerging generation but found that it was as yet, unnamed. He conducted a survey to discover what people thought the generation after Z should be called. Generation A was the most common suggestion, but he didn’t like it. Instead, he looked to the model of hurricanes where the names given ran through the Roman or Latin alphabet and then on to the Greek alphabet. “He settled on the next cohort being Generation Alpha ― not a return to the old, but the start of something new.” Each generational cycles lasts approximately 15-years and we are now firmly engaging with this latest one.
The global financial crisis of 2008 threw the millennial parents into a time of economic despair when Generation Alpha arrived, a precious gift in a time of extreme difficulty. Gen Alpha will become the largest generation in the history of the world, totaling almost two billion globally by 2025. While the characteristics of each generation don’t usually begin to appear until they are older, a picture of Generation Alpha, is starting to emerge.
Analysts believe that Alphas will grow up to be the best-educated generation ever. They will be more likely to earn a college degree and more likely to be surrounded by college-educated adults compared to prior generations. They are likely to stay in their education environment longer, begin their earning years later and consequently, live at home with their parents later than was previously the case. They will move more frequently, change careers more often and increasingly live in urban, not just suburban, environments.
They will be surrounded by more wealth. Half of Americans (48%) now say that two is the ideal number of children for a family to have, reflecting a decades-long preference for a smaller family over a larger one.
“Subsequently, their Alpha children are the most pampered and wealthiest in terms of materialistic possessions and gadgets, making them an instant gratification seeker, selfish and overindulged cohort.”
Generation Alpha is also on track to become the nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet. Alphas will consist of a high number of children with foreign-born parents and children who are foreign-born themselves, representing more countries around the world than previous generations. With census population projections estimating that white America will be in the minority by 2045, it is clear that Generation Alpha kids will become the nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet.
They are more global. The world is fully accessible to Generation Alpha allowing them to be more aware of current trends, movies, music, celebrities and influencers, each having a reach far wider than in the previous generations. Fashion, food, online entertainment, social trends, communication, viral YouTube videos and memes are all part of Alpha’s “education”. Parents are finding it extremely difficult to shield children from the wider world.
This generation is predicted to be more mobile in many areas of their life, from where, when and how they will work, study, travel and live. Today the average length of staying in one working role has shortened to just under three years which means they will probably have up to18 different jobs over the course of their life. Many of these jobs don't yet exist, but will involve robotics, Artificial Intelligence, coding, app development and data analytics. Tele-work, flextime, work from home or remote working, working in shifts, and rise in dual-career families have already blurred the boundaries separating personal and professional life for millennials, all impacting Gen Alpha.
Encouraging the Future: How do we do it?
The first step to encouraging Generation Alpha is to realize that they are here. They are the kids who are in our Children’s Ministry and they speak a different language. We have not yet touched on the greatest difference, their engagement with technology. For many of us who belong to the Boomer or the Buster generations, technology is an entirely foreign language, yet this is what they speak. It’s not enough to think that we can remove it from their world. It is here to stay and we need to deal with it. Watch for a future blog on the topic of technology.
 McCrindle, Mark, Fell, Ashley & Buckerfield, Sam, Generation Alpha. Understanding our Children and Helping them Thrive. Hachette Australia. Kindle Edition.  From 2010 to 2019 — the first nine years of Generation Alpha births — the United States saw educational attainment improve among adults between the ages of 25 and 34. During this time frame, adults grew more likely to hold an associate (8% to 9%), bachelor’s (22% to 26%) or graduate (9% to 11%) degree as their highest level of educational attainment. Not surprisingly, the share of adults who didn’t graduate from high school (13% to 8%) and only graduated from high school (48% to 46%) fell during this same time frame.  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/generation-alpha-after-gen-z_l_5d420ef4e4b0aca341181574  https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/08/ideal-size-of-the-american-family/  Carter, 2016, Understanding Generation Alpha Preprint · June 2020 DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/d2e8g  Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010, accounting for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. The Asian alone population grew faster than any other major race group between 2000 and 2010, also increasing by 43 percent, from 10.2 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2010. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb11-cn125.html