If you’re anything like me, you still remember the exact moment you heard about a cool new website called thefacebook.com or the first time you ever laid eyes on a first generation iPhone that you had to swipe and tap to operate. (I was at a restaurant in NYC and a friend of a friend who worked in finance busted it out to calculate the tip. My mind was blown.)
But get this: Generation Alpha—kids born between 2011 and 2025—will never ever know a world without email, social media and more. (Yes, technically, a child born in 2005 grew up with much of the technology we now use—but they probably didn’t have their baby photos splashed all over Instagram, which launched in 2010.) So, what does that mean for their lives and how do we instill heathy boundaries? We asked Shari D. Cameron, head of school at BASIS Independent Schools for Brooklyn Lower to weigh in.
1. You’ll Need to Teach About Reliable Sources
Other generations (present company included) can very much remember what it was like to consult the World Book or Encyclopedia Brittanica to get the answers to questions like what’s the capital of France or learn about the plight of the Vikings. But Generation Alpha will grow up relying on Google—a source that allows them to feed their curiosity immediately, but also puts a great amount of pressure on parents. “Parents will need to teach children that not every site they find is reliable,” Cameron explains. “There is so much information now, but it’s important to help them learn how to know if the information is true or not.” (Cameron says one of the science teachers at her school makes a point to talk to students in her fifth grade class each year about Wikipedia and demonstrate how anyone can post to it, which means there could be misinformation. They even test it out by adding something small to an entry and seeing how long it takes to be vetted.)
2. Embrace Their Global Consciousness
Generation Alpha might have a shorter attention span, but they’re also better at digesting small chunks of information, Cameron explains. That ability can make it harder to shield them from events, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Overall, I do think Generation Alpha is poised to be more globally conscious and aware,” she says. “With the Black Lives Matter movement last year, there were very young children at our school who heard about it. They knew about the movement and they had an opinion.” The result is that parents will need to learn to be less guarded and more up front when it comes to sensitive and challenging conversations.
3. Don’t Ignore Technology
One of the worst things we can do is to pretend technology doesn’t exist, says Cameron. “Parents need to acknowledge that these platforms—say, Instagram or Tik Tok—are there and that they are influencing the narrative in children’s lives.” Because even if children don’t have their own account, they might have a friend’s login or other ways to access that information. Per Cameron, it all comes back to educating kids about how to spot misinformation and how to use various platforms responsibly. “Again, parents and educators are the ones most under pressure here, but our new reality empowers us to educate ourselves in order to educate our kids.”
4. And Here’s How to Answer the Cell Phone Question
Cameron says you should ask yourself a single question before deciding: What’s the reason they need a phone? “Families need to remove the burden of feeling pressured to place a phone in their child’s hand solely because other children may have them,” she says. “For example, if a fifth grader is navigating public transportation on their own, the parents/guardian need to know they are safe. If a family decides it’s appropriate for recreational use, then that can be OK, too. It all differs based on the needs of the family.” In other words, there’s no one right age. It’s subjective.