For Akshata Zaveri, 10, technology is one of the three most important things in life right now—the other two being reading and researching climate change. The world of tech allows her to find conscious ways of caring for the environment—an issue close to her heart—look up means of helping a classmate with ADHD cope with school, access books she likes, and find human stories behind world events such as the Russia-Ukraine war. Not just that, she can quickly look up reviews, read blogs or hear podcasts about the best car to suit the family needs for their next purchase. Siri—the virtual assistant—is her tool of choice, as it responds to Mumbai-based Akshata’s queries in a matter of seconds.
The 10-year-old can’t imagine a world without cloud-based systems. “For her, this seamless flow of information and knowledge is a given. She doesn’t know of a time when all notes and presentations could not be synced on a cloud and accessed from anywhere,” says her mother, 41-year-old Mansi Zaveri, founder of Kidsstoppress.com, a discovery platform for all parenting needs.
Let’s take a deep dive into the minds of Gen Alpha—children born in the early to mid-2010s, with the last of their generation yet to be born, in 2024. The first generation to be born entirely in the 21st century, Alpha is being hailed by market researchers and sociologists as the best educated, most technologically immersed, materially endowed and empowered generation ever. Though the oldest in this demographic is still 11-12 years, this generation is emerging as one of the most influential, with defined opinions and distinctive characteristics, and one that sways a household’s consumer and lifestyle choices more than any other before it.
The youngest consumers
A blog post, Who Is Gen Alpha, on Edited—a platform for retail and enterprise analysis—has some rather fascinating insights. It states that in 2020, 81% of children under 12 worldwide influenced purchase decisions, accounting for around $500 billion ( ₹40.5 trillion) in spending. That clearly explains the clout this generation holds over a family’s purchasing options.
Also read: How to raise children in the digital age
It’s no wonder then that they are being targeted aggressively by social media marketers and campaign creators. Today, most popular podcasts on Gen Alpha are being run by marketing agencies. They offer a sense of the different approaches that marketers should use and the keywords that should be employed to impress this generation. For instance, you will notice a lot of active phrases like “Get now”, “Your app is missing you” and “deals”, as opposed to “buy”, “obtain”. A 2021 article, Gen Alpha Steps Up To The Plate, on the Robin Report, a knowledge-based information and consulting platform, states that personalised, curated offers are the norm for Gen Alpha consumers. “(Gen Alpha) wants real time in-app personalisation from online retailers on social media. Retailers that drag their feet on providing this run the risk of failing to connect with this influential demographic during their formative years,” it notes.
Mumbai-based Sneha Shah, a 37-year-old home chef and jewellery designer, is often informed by her son, Ivaan, 10, about such deals and offers after he views the ads that pop up between YouTube videos. Another noticeable consumption trend is the attraction of limited-edition products. “It is no longer enough to get something that everyone has. Now you get limited-edition watches, shoes. Five-year-olds have smartwatches, while slightly older kids demand their own robots,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Khushnaaz Noras.
There is, of course, a flip side to this excessive engagement with the screen: heightened reliance on social media influencers, a sense of worth that is often based on external validation, and information overload. For, even if parents try to cap their screen time, there is no keeping this generation away from the screen. Most homework requires online research. Many get on to online shopping sites from their parents’ phones.
Genesis of the term Gen Alpha
The term Gen Alpha, like most other generational labels, is the result of a research agency’s surveys. It was coined in 2008 by Mark McCrindle, an Australia-based sociological and generational researcher, who also runs an eponymous research agency.
“As a research agency with a keen interest in generational analysis, we decided to test a few names out with a survey. When we asked people what they thought the next generation should be called, many people suggested Generation A, having come to the end of the alphabet with Generation Z,” says Ashley Fell, director of advisory at McCrindle, in an email interview. “Going back to the beginning didn’t feel right for this next generation.” In keeping with the scientific practice of using the Greek alphabet in lieu of the Latin, and given that the world has worked its way through Generations X, Y and Z, the agency settled on the next cohort being Generation Alpha—“not a return to the old, but the start of something new”.
Why is it important to understand this generation? For one, their sheer size. More than 2.8 million are born globally every week, write McCrindle and Fell in their 2020 report, Understanding Gen Alpha. When they have all been born (by 2024), they will number more than two billion, thus becoming the largest generation in the history of the world. While they are currently the youngest generation, they have brand influence and purchasing power beyond their years. They shape the social media landscape, are the popular culture influencers—and the emerging consumers.
With the top three countries of birth including India, China and Indonesia, a large chunk of Alphas reside in Asia. Yet, their outlook is largely global. According to Fell, Alphas are the first generation fully born in this new millennium, so they are the first to be fully shaped in a global culture. While brands, technologies, music and movies have been borderless for some time, for Alphas, their social media contacts, video-game competitors, newsfeed and playlists are truly global. “In a world of Tik Tok, K-pop, WeChat and manga, the popular culture shaping today’s children is as likely to flow from East to West as the other way around,” she adds.
Gen Z vs Alpha
You might argue that Gen Z too is a digitally native demographic. Then why is Gen Alpha different? Pooja Gulati, 41, a Delhi-based communications professional, has some answers. While her younger daughter, Naisha, 10, is an alpha, the older daughter is a Gen Z and 16 years of age. “The older one still uses a whiteboard to study, referring to physical books—a bit like we used to approach lessons. But for Naisha, everything is virtual and driven by Artificial Intelligence,” she says.
Zaveri too has had similar experiences, being a parent of both Gen Z and Alpha kids. “They are just four years apart. But the older one will still ‘write’ a question down. My younger one, born into Gen Alpha and having been brought up during the covid-19 pandemic, has no concept of writing. Everything is very voice-first. It’s not like this generation is not processing information, it’s just that their methodology is very different,” she says.
One must remember that Gen Alpha hails from the post-Instagram age, with the first of them born the year that iPad launched. They are natural “screenagers”. According to Fell, Alphas don’t just multi-screen and multitask; for them, glass has become the new medium for content dissemination. Unlike the medium of paper, it is kinaesthetic, visual, interactive, connective and still portable. “Glass was something Gen Ys were told to look through and keep their fingers off. For Gen Alpha, glass is a medium they touch, talk to and look at,” she adds.
In India, whether it is in the metros or tiers 2 and 3 cities, ready access to the mobile phone and the internet has turned Gen Alpha into a content creator generation. They have their own YouTube channels, blogs, games, and more. Shah feels this urge in children to put out content is immense. During the lockdown, she used to put out Instagram videos of Ivaan helping her cook, just for fun. “I realised he would keep asking, ‘how many likes did I get?’, ‘how many people viewed my video?”. Conversations between friends in the playground had started to revolve around their YouTube channels as well. That’s when I realised this was not the right time for all this and his childhood had to be free of this need for virtual validation,” she says.
An older generation may easily dismiss one so driven by consumption as having little or no awareness of issues around them, believing that they live in a bubble in tune with only their own needs and wants. In reality, though, with more access to information, there is a heightened sensitivity to issues. Most children are more politically engaged, sensitive to gender issues, have a defined sense of justice, and are more aware of mental health issues at a younger age. For instance, Ahmedabad-based N.J., 11, is currently researching ways in which children in her class can have a more positive outlook towards menstruation. A girl in her class has just started menstruating and occasionally stains her uniform, inviting sniggers and stares from classmates. N.J. is creating a presentation to sensitise children on how periods are a normal part of any girl’s life, and how to support classmates on this journey.
This reflects in the choices this generation makes as well. Armed with technology, the children know they can both create content and purchase services that could make a difference. Slowly, they are also learning the difference between gimmicky and relevant content. “Just because you bring in a famous footballer or a cricketer to market a product doesn’t mean it will sell with this generation. They will still ask questions about whether elements in a product have been recycled, are they sustainable,” says Debmita Dutta, a Bengaluru-based doctor and parenting consultant who runs theparentingplace.in and has been working with teens and pre-teens.
According to a study conducted by McCrindle, 80% of the parents of Gen Alpha surveyed said their actions or consumption decisions were more environmentally aware when influenced by their children. Fell believes Alphas are holding their parents to account about using plastics, reusable cups and doing their part for the environment. “This new generation will, in general, make decisions based on social media influencers and their personal values. As they grow up, they will also be looking at companies’ social responsibility because they want the companies they interact with to ‘do the right thing’,” she adds.
The millennial style of parenting
Before we launch into a survey of this young generation, please spare a thought for their parents. As the mother of a Gen Alpha child, I can assure you no other parent in history has stood more corrected. At any given moment, you could be bombarded with questions like: “Who was the first to use Helium?” My parents would probably have directed me to an encyclopaedia or suggested some random name. Who would have known the difference, after all there was no Google to verify. But times have changed, and, before I can respond, the child will use a voice assistant and get an answer in a jiffy. “It’s surprising you didn’t know that,” the 10-year-old will quip, leaving you feeling rather inadequate for not knowing such very important things.
You want to buy a gadget? The child will get on to Google, look at reviews and not just find the appropriate model to suit your needs but also one that fits your budget. She will also find financing options for it. You will also be told that the option you had been toying with is at least two generations old.
A similar scenario is playing out at Gulati’s home. Naisha is currently creating a wish list of holiday destinations. She has noticed on her mother’s social media accounts that a lot of influencers are heading to Dubai, so that is No.1 on the list. Earlier this week, she was shortlisting hotels, with packages and room rates. Alongside, she also mentioned hotels that had lower rates, just in case the family wanted a budget holiday. “She uses technology to make sensible decisions. It’s not like ‘this is on my wish list, you have to buy it at any cost’. She will open a brand’s website and then check the search engine for similar stuff at affordable pricing,” says Gulati.
When you say it out loud, millennials and Gen Alpha sound like two very cool, with-it generations. When it comes to technology, however, the chasm between the two is like a yawning canyon.
There are many such surprises in store for parents. It is possible that Gen Alpha will have no knowledge of many of the things millennials grew up with. In fact, Fell and McCrindle write in their report that just like record players, VHS and pagers haven’t been part of millennials’ day-to-day lives for a number of years, looking ahead, it is very likely that Gen Alpha will never use a wallet, listen to the radio as a device, participate in a written exam or set an analogue alarm clock. Perhaps it is for the parents to keep up with the advancements that Alpha seems to be so savvy with.
And it is this comfort with tech that differentiates Alpha from the rest, so much so that millennial parents have begun to rely on the children for assistance.
The other day, Zaveri was trying to place a meeting request on her phone, while also urging Akshata to study. “She told me to relax and commanded Siri to wake her up in 10 minutes. And here I was trying to key in a meeting request. That blew my mind. These kids don’t even type. Technically, I can also do this, but this is not the first command that I would give my brain,” she says. Gulati enlists Naisha’s help whenever she has to make an Instagram post or whenever she has a tech challenge. “It is almost like she knows it all.”
The decision making has become more collaborative. Zaveri has noticed that this generation doesn’t assume that they are the best at everything. They will ask friends, seek expert opinion and then arrive at a choice, whether it is about a camp to attend or a gadget to buy. “As millennials, we are scared of change. But they are born into it. Take a small thing such as a software update. We don’t care if it is delayed by days. But she has to do it the minute it comes up. She will also keep reminding me to do the same. Staying up to speed is important for them,” she says.
Having said that, children this age don’t blindly trust their peer group—at least not yet. My child has a core group of friends who have grown up together. Some of them are heavily into K-pop—even having BTS-themed birthday parties. Others are exploring javelin throwing and gymnastics, given the performance of Indian athletes at the Olympics in the past few years. Her interests, however, are veering towards the visual and performing arts.
“I can’t bear K-pop, they all sound the same,” is the reply when asked about her aversion to the genre. She spends some screen time exploring apps and websites to help her artistic pursuits. She has her own set of “influencer artists” that she checks on my social media account—she doesn’t have her own yet—but they are different from the ones her friends are inspired by. It’s interesting to see that while this generation is united in its ease with technology, they are using it very differently to achieve different purposes.
The fact that a lot of children are exploring varied choices is also a reflection on the parenting by millennials. According to Fell, millennial parents are well positioned to raise children who are empathetic, holistic and have a well-rounded understanding of the global and diverse society they live in. Their children are more often viewed as little people to be understood and guided rather than “blank slates” to be prescribed and directed. “For Gen Alpha, the relationship between parents and children is much better, marked by open communication. During therapy, this is a clear trend that has emerged. There is an effort to make children an active participant in your life,” says Sonali Gupta, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and Lounge columnist.
She adds an important caveat: that we are talking about the middle and upper middle class here. There needs to be a survey of Gen Alpha in lower middle class backgrounds as well. “All our children have far more agency in, say, a holiday, dining out. A lot of this is also because of a shift in the kind of education kids are receiving. It is more project-based and interactive,” says Gupta.
In the big cities at least, she has noticed a change in the past decade: A lot of parents are consciously choosing schools that offer international programmes and progressive methodologies. Even though the fee is steep, families are keeping aside money for this. As a result, the number of IB (International Baccalaureate) schools is going up across the country. “Even when Gen Z was studying, I didn’t know enough people who went to IB schools. As a result of this shift, kids are not passive consumers of information. They are actively engaging with the world and making their own choices,” she adds.
Living through the covid-19 pandemic in their formative years has also shaped Gen Alpha’s sensibilities. Being cloistered at home with adults has made them think like grown-ups. According to Dutta, Gen Z spent a larger part of their formative years with their peer group. But for Gen Alpha, often there was no one of their age around. “That has made them decision makers like their parents,” she says. With online schooling and increase in screen time, they have had ready access to a lot of knowledge, unlike previous generations. They know what their needs are and they don’t need things like physical cash to buy them. “Even in small towns, the pandemic has led to high penetration of digital wallets. It has become easy for them to purchase stuff. They are also very aware of pricing. Alpha was deeply impacted by the pandemic. They recognise that you can’t just throw away money, having seen a crunch during the formative years. As a 10-year-old, I had no such experiences,” she adds. “They also have seen scarcity of commodities. During the lockdown, if they wanted small things like chocolate, they couldn’t get one easily.”
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It’s not all hunky-dory
Information overload has emerged as a big challenge for Gen Alpha children and their parents. This generation is being bombarded by trivia, news, marketing messages, 24x7. How to sift relevant information could well become an issue. “Earlier, we only had to childproof the furniture. Now we have moved on to putting a child lock on all apps and gadgets,” says Shah, aghast at how little engagement this generation has with physical objects. Recently, her son’s friend came over and noticed a newspaper on the sofa. Shah showed him an article about their school. However, the print was so small that he tried to zoom in to the paper. “That was an eye-opener for me. He had never seen a paper. His parents subscribed to an e-paper and he would go through the kids’ section on his iPad,” she says.
While the intention behind Alpha’s decision-making processes may be noble, and they try to get as many expert opinions as possible, all these answers are sought online. “And, often, unreliable sources put out this information. I have seen kids ask their parents, ‘are good grades necessary?’. They will search online and often get the answer that grades are not all that important. Search engines have become the parameter for what is right or wrong,” says Noras. Their developing minds are akin to small sponges. If you were to squeeze them, you would realise how much unnecessary information also goes in.
They might not be as easily influenced by their peers but they set stock by bloggers and celebrities. The Edited blog states that 55% of Gen Alpha children admitted they would buy a product worn by an influencer/YouTube star. “I have seen kids who have embarked on crash diets after going through a blog or a celebrity interview. K-dramas are so huge. Recently, a Canadian author, blogger Nalie Augustin—also a cancer survivor—passed away and a child mourned them so much, perhaps even more than for a relative,” she adds.
This generation is also impacted by influencers from their own age group. Take, for instance, Ryan Kaji (born in 2011), who started his YouTube channel, Ryan’s World, with the help of his parents when he was merely three. He would regularly review toys and other goodies and became one of the highest-earning YouTubers at the age of 10. A.K., a 10-year-old from Gurugram, Haryana, remembers watching those videos till she was six-seven. In a bid to imitate him, she would take all her toys out and review them for her parents. She would coax her parents to buy a lot of “toy eggs with surprises in them”. Now, A.K. knows these have no utility and offer just a moment of gratification.
Often, regularly interacting with these influencers and experts online makes the children feel closer to them. There is no filter, so children tend to base their self-worth on the basis of such external stimuli. If I look like a K-pop star, I am okay, if not, am I worthless?
Noras is already noticing a rise in discontent in this generation. “Projection of a good life on social media platforms has become very important. This is across socioeconomic backgrounds—this need to show they are doing so much better than they actually are. Children are seeing their self-worth being validated by the number of likes and views they get,” says Noras. They run the risk of running social media accounts under fake names their parents don’t know about. One can sometimes see children dressed inappropriately, or putting up insensitive posts that could trigger a peer. “Validation of the internet has gained importance. A mother saying ‘I love you’ or a therapist telling you that you are good enough is not working any more for many,” says Noras.
Metaverse gaming is emerging as a huge influence. Noras’ daughter, who is 10, has been urging her to download a metaverse game. Such games sometimes take children away from reality—they no longer care about what kind of house they actually stay in, worrying more about how their villa looks in the metaverse. They end up interacting online with gamers who might be child predators in disguise. “Such games are technically free to be downloaded. But, then, to get small avatars or to get a level up, you have to pay. It is not so much about your gaming skill as about your power to buy. In a game, you are one purchase away from happiness or feeling validated. I was told by a child that he feels disadvantaged. His friends in the metaverse have this kind of outfit and that kind of house, and he feels left out,” she says.
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Having said that, Gen Alpha is still being seen as a hopeful generation—and an action-forward one that’s quick to adapt, given that they have lived through a pandemic. “They are very solution-oriented. A lot of them have matured very fast. They want to do something about the environment, cyber bullying, and more,” feels Gupta. As they see newer job profiles opening up in the field of cybersecurity and cryptocurrency, which require constant upgradation with changes in technology, Alphas have recognised the need for upskilling at a very early age. As their lives get updated with the touch of a button, and the children move from one version of a software, product and service to another, one hopes that with every passing year, this generation will also try and become better versions of not just their previous generations, but also of themselves.
As members of an older generation, we may love to rant about the young ones but as I browse through blogs by 11-year-olds on body shaming, attend sessions by class VI students on the need to save a biodiverse ecosystem in their city that has been usurped for some corporate park, or have insightful debates with them on the pros and cons of going vegan, I come to the conclusion that the children are all right!