“Hi, my name is John* and I am 15 years old. I was born in 2005.”
While conducting an online session for a group of high school students recently, we started off the session by having a short round of introductions. Being the youngest, John went first. When his age was mentioned, it suddenly hit me:
This student is 12 years younger than me.
John is part of Generation Z and he grew up in an age where having a laptop and a smartphone was already a norm. They are known to be hyper-connected online, technologically savvy, and have shorter attention spans as compared to their predecessors. They are also currently dominating the classrooms.
However, in a few more years, a new group of children will be replacing them. They will outgrow, outperform, and outlive all previous generations before. In fact, some of them are already in primary schools. As we usher in a new age of youths, we need to ask ourselves this rather important question:
Are we ready for Generation Alpha?
Gen Alpha is the demographic cohort made out of individuals born between 2010 and 2024. They are the children of Gen Y, and often, the younger siblings of Gen Z. They will be the most materially endowed, the most technologically fluent, and the longest living generation to have lived. In Malaysia, there are approximately 32.7 million people, where 23.3% of them are below the age of 14. Just imagine, these 7.6 million youths are members of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, and they are going to be the future leaders of our society.
In a world where technology permeates every layer of our everyday life, children are growing up as digital natives. It is not far-fetched to say that Gen Z and Gen Alpha could never imagine how life can be without a screen. On top of that, the pandemic and lockdowns have caused the education of children to shift from predominantly taking place in a face-to-face classroom setting, to an online platform.
With all of that in mind, more attention needs to be put into digital education and wellness. Even now, many parents are using gadgets to pacify their children's emotional outbursts or tantrums. Left to their own devices, the children's values will come from a puppet singing a song. Their outlook of life will be shaped by the man and woman speaking from behind the screen. Ultimately, their identity, worth, and self-esteem will be determined by their social media interactions online. This begs the question,
What does Generation Alpha need?
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Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with virtual learning or having exposure to screen time. On the contrary, it can be beneficial! What we have to do is to go back to the basics of what children really need. In short, love, connection, and guidance.
Instead of throwing a gadget at them, we must first create a connection with them and supplement their online habits with best practices of using technology around them. There needs to be a distinction between reality and the screen. Adults, in fact, play an important role in shaping the lives of the new generation.
Among the things that we can equip children with are:
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1. Protection of personal information
Personal information should remain private. Whether it is their own personal information or the information of others, we must ensure that they know how to safeguard their data. This includes
- Sensitive information (such as passwords, phone numbers or username handles)
- Private documents (such as identity card or birth certificate)
- Locations (such as where you are currently visiting or house addresses)
- Content online (such as pictures of self or family members or the places you often frequent)
Digital footprints, although virtual, can be permanent and damaging when misused. Ensure that they understand the nature of the online ecosystem and know how to be cautious. Share with them that the consequences of such actions can not only affect them but their loved ones as well.
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2. Being a responsible digital citizen
Secondly, make sure they know how to navigate the Web properly and responsibly. Anyone who goes online can be easily exposed to many different elements. Even adults are not spared from the detrimental effects of these elements on their mental and physical well-being. What more children? These influences may encourage us to engage in activities or behaviors that perpetuate negativity or harm. This includes:
- Ranting or lashing out emotionally on social media site
- Commenting or sharing controversial things (such as viral videos or pictures that are inappropriate or condemning, whether they are true or false)
- Doing challenges online without properly understanding the context of it
- Participating in chat groups or platforms that spreads negativity or toxicity
The ability to discern right and wrong, and to engage responsibly with content viewed online is a vital skill needed in this age. To be a responsible digital citizen, one needs to start from with the basics.
Practising positive actions is one of the ways to live healthily online. Spreading goodwill, comment positively, and being an upstander and reporting negative things online are among the few things one can do to make a world a better place. Instead of tearing each other down, share the kindness and see the community around you change bit by bit.
Image Source: Pexels
3. Learning to share with family
As technology creeps into every facet of our lives, we must remember that in a world of virtual connections, authenticity is in demand. Take this opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with your children and learn with them. Make that effort to connect with them, so that they can learn to rely on you as a moral compass or guide when they need help in making sense of the world. From there, you can even build their resilience in the process.
Go through what your children's thinking processes are and how they consume information. Share with them your mistakes online, and how you improved or how you can improve on them. This helps not only to understand your children better but also allows you to spend more time together with them.
Gen Alpha are individuals who will live in a world exposed to technology, whether we like it or not. Many of them will live in an increasingly tech-savvy and privileged ecosystem, where they will get an Instagram or TikTok account before obtaining their own Identity Card.
What we can do is properly educate them on how to use technology in the safest way.
Collectively teaching our kids to protect themselves online, educating them how to be a good digital citizen, and learning to bond with them through technology will be some of the new ways of raising our future children as the world evolves.
For more content, do visit Generasi Gemilang Youtube channel for videos on how to educate your children to go online.
* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child