Are the kids alright? Meet the children of Generation Alpha – well, the ones who’ve shown up so far – a demographic group born between 2010 and 2025. Millions more are yet to even be realised, but they’re building towards a population of 2.2 billion by 2024. The oldest, thus far, are on the very cusp of becoming teenagers. The first wave will reach adulthood by 2030.
They’re COVID babies, students who did school on Zoom and met family members on FaceTime, with an early media diet that slaloms through the endless scroll. It’s the first generation to be born totally in the 21st century, experiencing the digital world in the most all-encompassing manner. They grew up – and are growing – as institutions and cultural practices across the world fell away. They’re children caught in the crossfire, amid new and restructuring social movements, and are experiencing the impact of climate change first-hand.
A consensus on Gen Alpha’s embryonic sensibilities has already started to form – arbitrary lines drawn by analysts and marketers desperate to construct the next next generation’s tastes and habits of consumption. Their narrative is yet to be made flesh, but they’ll likely be the most commodified generation yet. As trend cycles move at increasingly breakneck speed and the world is pulled taut across the binaries of political and social extremes, is it even possible to delineate people in any meaningful way? Whether we’ll even stick with the Alpha name is yet to be seen – spare a thought for the discarded monikers of slackers, latchkey kids, MTV generation and the iGeneration. The next axis-shifting global event could see them dubbed something entirely different, though let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
I head to St Mary Magdalene’s, a Church of England primary school in north-west London, on a bright winter’s morning for a small survey of kids that fall into Generation Alpha. It’s a Friday, and they’ve spent the week making slime in science, preparing for their forthcoming talent show and finishing reading and writing comprehensions. Their ages range from nine to 11. They’re all London-born and bred, though some have family in West Africa, Yemen, Albania and Ireland.
There are a few cultural unifiers among them – football, mainly. Paris Saint-Germain is the group’s favourite, and one girl’s admission that she supports both Manchester United and Manchester City – rival teams – is met with scoffs and light teasing. TikTok is another – Cally, 10, has an account monitored by her mother, where she posts fancams of England footballer Jack Grealish. At the talent show, Cally plans to sing Rihanna, while Nour and Mohammad, both 11, will take on Imagine Dragons. As with most generations, they use cultural touchstones as signifiers. Their mostly older millennial and Gen X parents watch soaps (and they’re not opposed to sitting with them for a Coronation Street omnibus, or the game show Tipping Point). Those with teenage siblings find them boring or distant because they’re concentrating on GCSEs and A-levels. They’re heavily influenced by what their family members enjoy – Hussain, 9, plays PlayStation with his sixth-former brother (but only when he’s not with his girlfriend, which is a lot). Cally reads her mum’s “belly books” (pregnancy pamphlets). Nour listens to the Arabic songs his father loves and Isabelle-Rose, nine, likes Afrobeats. Laeth is enamoured with Formula One.
The older kids in the group are only 20 days from finding out which secondary school they’ll be going to in September. “It’s a big step up from primary,” Leon, 11, affirms solemnly. “We’ll look like nursery kids compared to the year 12s.”
“My parents are all over it,” Isabelle-Rose emphasises. “I’m not even in Year 6 and they’re asking everyone at church what the good schools are.” Everyone is able to list their top three schools of choice seamlessly.
“I’d give my life savings to stay at this age for the rest of my life,” says Cally. “I still want to go to Peppa Pig World this summer, even though my family think I’m too old. I don’t want to grow up.”
“I don’t mind,” says Nour. “I’ll become old so I can get my driving licence. The bad thing about it is you have to pay taxes.”
“I feel old already. I was in Year 3 four years ago and I was worrying about Key Stage 2!” says Leon, incredulous.
“I don’t know when I would ever want to move out of my mum’s house,” says Cally. “She says when I do that I can pick my own clothes, though. And I can make my own money.”
Their big, small and fleeting dreams are met with equal fervour, and there’s a playful entrepreneurial spirit among the children. Cally does foot spas for her family and charges £2. She tells me she has a drinks business selling lemonade, while Leon has a rival company. “She’s mad ’cause my drink is better, and I have less people in my company taking up shares,” he says, miming at flicking an elastic band in Cally’s direction. “I use a combination of sour apple, lemon and lime. It’s all fresh.”
Nour wants to be a pilot and his second choice is a footballer. His “plan C” is to be a gamer. If Leon can’t play football, he says, “I’ll start my own business with my savings account. Or I’ll be an architect.” Cally wants to be a singer, an interior designer or a YouTuber. Isabelle-Rose wants to be a paramedic and Mohammad wants to be a heart surgeon. Hussein wants to be a footballer, a shop manager or an archaeologist.
Mark McCrindle, the social researcher credited with coining the term Generation Alpha, predicts that this group will delay standard life mile- stones – like marriage and childbirth – if following previous generational trends. If we also follow the health and social trends of previous demographics, this generation will live longer and have smaller families, as well as being the most formally educated, technology-supplied and wealthiest generation globally ever.
Proximity to technology defines each and every generation. Already, ‘Generation Glass’ is another label attached to Generation Alpha because of their attachment to tech – the first births in 2010 were the same year as the launches of Instagram and the iPad. A 2020 report by Childwise found that 53 per cent of children in the UK own a mobile phone by age of seven. This group all have Instagram accounts monitored by their parents and their main way of communicating is WhatsApp. “Where the drama happens,” says Nour with a sigh. Each year-group has its own group chats and gendered offshoots. It’s where arguments about Covid and crushes are approached with similar tenacity. One person – though I won’t grass – tells me they’ve had their electronics confiscated after being caught shoplifting: “it was a gift card with no money on it, I just liked the colour.”
Life pre-Covid for Generation Alpha is truncated. There is no universal experience of the pandemic, and it remains to be seen what the long-term impact on a generation that spent some of its formative years inside will be. At the same time, early research findings highlight the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of primary school-age children, as well as their ability to form relationships. Still, children have shown resilience in the face of change and circumstance – a UK study of young Girl Guides aged four to 18 in 2021 found that 55 per cent felt a new understanding of themselves, and 49 per cent said they had learned to cope with difficulties better.
“It felt a little weird in the playground when we first went back,” remembers Nour. “Friendships changed for good and bad. There were more fights and misunderstandings.”
I ask the group more about how they envision future adult life. Will they go to clubs when they’re older? It’s a resounding no. “People get too drunk.” “The music is gross!” “They swear too much there.” Someone on set at the group’s photoshoot says an expletive when dropping a piece of equipment, to the group’s quiet horror. For them, getting older means unlimited PlayStation, driving, owning their own houses, having kids, having boundless job opportunities and travelling the world.
It’s a world with issues they’re attuned to. When I question what they see as the biggest urgencies today, there’s some box-ticking: world hunger, war, climate change, racism, speeding, littering. Analysis by the Science journal estimates that Generation Alpha, particularly children born in 2020, will experience up to seven times as many extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves. They’re learning about the cost of living crisis and inflation through their school tuck shop, where they barter with a firm grasp of finance. “Crisps are like £1.25 now, you know,” Cally says. We talk about the recent protests for Albanian refugees, Palestine demos, and vigils for Turkey and Syria they’ve attended with family. A back-and-forth ensues that goes deeper into their concerns.
“I think about how single mothers don’t get enough money or support,” says Cally. “I think about what happened to Stephen Lawrence,” says Nour, referencing the racially motivated murder of a Black British teenager in 1993. Every year, they have a remembrance day and lesson dedicated to Lawrence. Mohammad brings up the recent police killing of Tyre Nichols in the US, and Laeth recalls the racist treatment of England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka during the Euro 2021 Final.
“There are lots of types of racism here, especially in London,” says Leon. “It can be about the colour of your skin, but also if you are a refugee, like how Albanian people coming here are treated. The government thinks immigrants are criminals and it’s sad.”
“What’s next, world war three? World war 400?” asks Hussain. “I worry about Russia. I worry about China. I worry about the kids in the earthquakes in Turkey and in Syria.”
“Peace and harmony in all the world,” he sings.
“Are you singing Peppa Pig?” asks Isabelle-Rose, dubious, before joining in softly.
“More people need to pay attention not just to the western wars, but to the Middle East and Asia,” says Laeth, cutting through the song.
“I think we need to go to the House of Parliament and say all this,” adds Mohammad.
Freedom is important to them. Creativity is too. And their strong ideas for what they would do if they were in power. “I think we could do a better job than what they’re doing now,” says Isabelle-Rose.
As we’ve seen with their forebears, Generation Z, there’s increasing pressure and expectation for young people to change this amorphous world, to do better than ever before. When they imagine what they’d do as prime minister for the day, they keep busy. “I’d jail Matt Hancock, ban TikTok and put bankers and people who hurt children in prison for life,” says Cally. Surprisingly, the suggestion of the death penalty for various crimes is received with rapture – for littering, racism, and speeding. The group cycles through existential questions and increasingly elaborate scenarios for each.
“There’s millions of homeless people here. I’d create a fund to house them all,” says Leon.
“I would lower the electricity bills firstly,” says Mohammad, “and the water bills.” His party line is received with the most applause and some flamboyant bows.
As we’ve warmed up, they become more confident in throwing questions back at me – on what issues I care about, who should be in charge and fix things, whether sexism can go both ways, would I ever shoplift, and, if the dinosaurs went extinct, whether I think the same thing will happen to us.
“I wonder when it will be the end of the world,” says Nour.
“Maybe we’ll de-evolve?” offers Leon.
Despite the increasingly bleak bouts of prophesying, we talk about their excitement for the future – where cars are swapped for spaceships and everyone can be a footballer-architect or engineer-YouTuber. “I’ll get to go to Formula One and finally shake Max Verstappen’s hand,” says Laeth.
“I think of life like taking my piano exam,” says Isabelle-Rose. “You have to prepare – sight reading, scales, all the big songs. It’s very, very exciting and it can also be very, very scary. And you see big changes in yourself when you look back, so thinking about how it’s going to get even better is fun. Last year, my sight reading was awful gibberish. Now I’ve practised and practised, and I just want to do more.”
“Maybe our parents care about the world, but a lot of people just care about themselves right now and how they’re living as it goes right now,” says Leon. “We are young and I think we have time, but if the world is digressing this fast, it’s going to be chaos.”
If we’re to follow the Greek alphabet naming system, we’ll be on to Generation Beta in 2025, and Gamma and Delta in the next time boundaries. As Ursula K Le Guin once wrote in her speculative fiction: “The children of the revolution are always ungrateful, and the revolution must be grateful that it is so.”
Pupils HUSSAIN MEREDITH, RIA FITZGERALD, LILIA HOTAIT, YASMINA FAKHRELDINE, LEON MACI, ALI EL-KHALIL, LAETH RADMAN, NOUR LYASSIMI KAMAL, DOUNYA KARZAZI, AGNESA BICMETI, PARIS KARZAN, ISABELLE-ROSE ASIEDU, MOHAMMAD EL-ABDALLAH, YOUNA GHONCHEH ARAGHI, ALIYA SAADAT, ENIS BERISHA, CALLY CURRAN, photographic assistants FEDERICO COVARELLI, ANTONIO PERRONESANT, special thanks TONNIE SIMPSON and CAROL GOLD at ST MARY MAGDALENE’S PRIMARY SCHOOL