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Generation Alpha and mental health

Reviewed by Diane Warns

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Who Are Generation Alpha?

Generation Alpha, also known as Gen Alpha, is a generational cohort currently consisting of children and preteens. They are the generation after Gen Z.

Generation Alpha is not yet the official name for this generation. Other names currently in contention are:

  • Generation C: Some have suggested using “C” in reference to how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape this generation.
  • Generation Glass: This is in reference to the “glass” of digital screens and technology that children of this generation have grown up using daily.

More names will likely arise as more becomes known about this latest generation.

Generation Alpha Years

The date range for Generation Alpha is still in flux. The cut-off birthdate for Gen Z is typically thought to be somewhere between 2009 and 2011. At this point, 2010 is emerging as a favorite start date for Gen Alpha, although some place the date as late as 2012. 

Generations typically span between 15 and 20 years. Experts use a number of factors to settle on generational start and end dates. Fertility rates played a major role in settling the years for the Baby Boomers, while being old enough to remember 9/11 often serves as the litmus test between Millennials and Gen Z. Other significant factors, such as the end of a decade, the start of a new presidential administration, or the beginning or end of a war, also affect generational dates.

Based on past generational trends, it’s safe to assume that Generation Alpha will likely span somewhere 2010 to 2025. As it stands, children being born today are considered part of Generation Alpha.

Cusper Generations

Between generational cutoffs exist microgenerations known as cusper generations. These cupser generations may exhibit characteristics of both larger generational cohorts. 

No cusper generation exists between Gen Z and Generation Alpha yet, but one may emerge for those born in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The generation that will follow Gen Alpha, currently known as Generation Beta, does not currently exist, although experts suggest that it will emerge sometime in the late 2020s or early 2030s. It’s safe to assume that children born at the end of Gen Alpha and the beginning of Gen Beta may share certain traits and experiences.

Get to Know Generation Alpha

Demographic Predictions

Little is yet known about Generation Alpha. However, current facts point toward some reasonable predictions:

  • Race & ethnicity: Just over half of children under the age of 15 are non-White racial or ethnic minorities, according to analysis of 2018 U.S. census data by the Brookings Institution. That data was based on children born between 2003 and 2018, making it a mix of both Gen Z and Gen Alpha. It stands to reason that Generation Alpha will become even more diverse with time.
  • Population percentage: 2019 U.S. census data showed that Generation Alpha makes up just over 8% of the current population, although that number grows every day with new births. However, there are concerns that Generation Alpha could be smaller than previous generations due to the baby bust largely attributed to COVID-19. Similar “baby bust” generations include the Silent Generation and Gen X.

Predicted Major Historical Impacts

Defining moments for Generation Alpha are unfolding in the present day. Likely historical impacts for Gen Alpha include:

  • COVID-19 pandemic: Many Gen Alphas are having their first elementary or middle school experiences via Zoom or in classrooms with masks. Social opportunities are low, and screens often serve as the gateway for education, entertainment, socialization, friendship, and family connection. Oldest Gen Alphas are only 11, making them currently ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines (at time of publication). With the pandemic stretching toward a second year, Gen Alphas have spent about 20% or more of their life under the shadow of COVID-19.
  • Climate change: 2030 is the deadline to prevent irreversible damage to the climate. Gen Alphas will still be children or teenagers when this deadline passes. Unless significant societal change occurs in the next decade, it’s likely Gen Alpha will be the first generation to deal with escalating climate disasters.
  • School shootings: The return to in-person classrooms after the pandemic has also meant the return of mass shootings in schools. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 75% of Gen Z say that mass shootings are a significant source of stress. Unless significant legal changes occur, it’s likely a not-insignificant percentage of Gen Alpha will face the same unspeakable trauma during their school experience.

Artificial intelligence: Many Gen Alphas are growing up in a world in which asking Alexa, Siri, or Google Home for help is normal, even mundane. With autonomous vehicles and more advanced virtual assistants on the horizon, Gen Alpha is likely to become the most digitally saturated generation of all time.

Generation Alpha & Mental Health

Gen Alpha’s attitudes toward mental health are still forming. Informed by their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Alpha may become more accepting of the importance of mental health, resulting in less stigma toward mental health issues. 

Much of how Gen Alpha thinks and talks about mental health will depend on what is modeled for them by their parents, most of whom are Millennials and Gen Zers. Both generations have been shown to be more open to talking about and seeking help for mental health concerns. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 35% of Millennials and 37% of Gen Zers reported receiving therapy or mental health treatment in 2019.

Loneliness & Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely shifted the social landscape for everyone, but especially for children. Most of Gen Alpha experienced some combination of virtual, socially-distanced, and masked education over the past year and a half. Many didn’t see beloved grandparents for months, and time with friends moved to predominantly online spheres.

Although the internet has been a helpful alternative to in-person socialization, living in isolation for the better part of a year may result in some mental health challenges. In particular, it’s reasonable to predict that some of Gen Alpha may experience symptoms of social anxiety upon re-entry to in-person society.

Technology

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, most of Gen Alpha would have had greater access to digital technology than any generation prior. Gen Alpha is growing up in a world in which streaming, voice-activated assistants, social media, and smartphones are normal parts of life. 

Like every generation, Gen Alpha is moving away from the social spheres of their parents (Facebook, Twitter) toward more youth-oriented platforms (TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Discord, Twitch). They are the first generation to have the benefit of learning about the positives and negatives of social media by watching the example of their parents instead of having to learn exclusively through experience.

Technology could also affect how Gen Alpha accesses healthcare, including mental health care. It’s normal for Gen Alpha to have apps that track their sleep quality, count their steps, and remind them to breathe deeply. It’s likely that Gen Alphas will turn toward mental health apps first if they need mental health advice or assistance before looking into seeing an actual mental health professional. When they do decide to seek a therapist, teletherapy may be their first choice.

Anxiety and Depression

Both the Millennial generation and Gen Z have exhibited a trend toward increased levels of anxiety and depression. It’s likely that this trend will continue with Generation Alpha. However, increased mental health education and access to mental health care, as well as decreased stigma, may be enough to decrease or even prevent this expected spike.

Children’s Mental Health Statistics

Generations are not the same as stages of life. Although today’s children are part of Generation Alpha, Gen Alpha itself will continue to grow into adolescence, adulthood, middle age, and eventually old age. Meanwhile, children will be born into new generations, such as Generation Beta.

Still, it is important to take into account stages of life when discussing generations. Some mental health trends are more greatly associated with a specific stage of life (e.g., struggling with mood swings during puberty) rather than shared experiences during a specific stage of life (e.g., living through the COVID-19 pandemic during puberty). Many of the mental health challenges facing Generation Alpha are the same challenges faced by previous generations during their own childhoods.

Childhood Mental Health Risks

  • Abuse and neglect: Children are naturally dependent on the care of their parents or guardians to love them, protect them, and prepare them for the world. This unfortunately means that they are also the group at the greatest risk for abuse and neglect. Because children must depend on adults for their physical, mental, and emotional security, the effects of childhood abuse and neglect can be particularly devastating and last well into adulthood. Attachment theory is one way of understanding how a child’s relationship with their parents can give them a blueprint, for better or worse, for how to interact with the rest of the world.
  • Trauma: Even the most loving parents cannot always protect their children from experiencing trauma. Childhood trauma, such as divorce, bullying, or a death in the family, can shape how children understand the world and their place in it. Grief can be difficult for a child to process in healthy ways without the compassionate guidance of their parents or a mental health professional.
  • Instability: Instability at home can lead to increased stress in a child’s life. In particular, the stress of poverty can increase a person’s risk for mental health disorders. Studies have shown that poverty is most damaging when experienced during the first five years of a child’s life. It’s estimated that nearly one-third of all people living in poverty are children.
  • Bullying and peer pressure: Self-esteem is at its lowest during childhood. Children are still discovering their sense of self and are highly influenced by what others say about them. Bullying during childhood can lead to low self-esteem later in life.

Common Mental Health Disorders in Childhood

  • ADHD: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health disorders children are diagnosed with. Just over 9% of children in the U.S. have received an ADHD diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Anxiety: A 2012 study found that just over 6% of children ages 6–17 have been diagnosed with anxiety.
  • Depression: The same study found that about 5% of children ages 6–17 have been diagnosed with depression.
  • Other disorders: A 2016 study by the CDC found that about 1 in 6 children between the ages of two and eight have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.

Therapy for Children

There are many different types of therapies that are effective for children of all ages. Some of the most common therapies for children include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps people identify and change unhelpful or negative thought patterns that affect their emotions and behaviors. It can be tailored toward both adults and children.
  • Play therapy: Play therapy helps children process their emotions and experiences by using play as a primary form of communication. Children between the ages of three and 12 are best suited for play therapy, although it can be adapted for infants, adolescents, and even adults.
  • Animal-assisted therapy: Therapy animals can help children in a number of situations. Some libraries use therapy dogs to help children who are struggling with learning how to read. Therapy animals are also offered at many children’s hospitals.
  • Art therapy: Art therapy is often offered at schools, hospitals, prisons, and other institutions to help children who may be struggling with stressful situations.
  • Family therapy: Some childhood mental health issues respond best to treatment that incorporates the entire family. A therapist may advise a specific type of family therapy or separate parental education to help parents understand how best to support their child.

Are Generations Real?

It is important to note that generations are socially constructed categories. Specific details about each generation, such as date range, formative historical events, and even the name of the generation itself, are all finalized over time by a mix of expert and public opinion. 

Strauss-Howe Generational Theory

The Strauss-Howe generational theory states that generations occur in a four-stage cycle, with each generation lasting around 20–25 years. Each generation corresponds with a “turning,” which is a change in society and culture. The generations that come of age during a specific turning adopt a corresponding archetype. 

A typical Strauss-Howe generational cycle would look like this:

  1. High: Society is functioning as it was built. This turning produces the idealist archetype, also known as the Prophet (currently Baby Boomers and eventually Generation Alpha). 
  2. Awakening: Society begins to question why it was built the way it was and whether or not it actually functions. This turning produces the reactive archetype, also known as the Nomad (currently Gen X).
  3. Unraveling: Society begins to lose its ability to function as it was built. This turning produces the civic archetype, also known as the Hero (currently Millennials).
  4. Crisis: Society falls apart and is rebuilt to function in a new way. This turning produces the adaptive archetype, also known as the Artist (currently Gen Z and previously the Silent Generation).

The Limits of Generational Theory   

While generations can be helpful ways of understanding others, they have their limits. Too often, generations can be reduced to stereotypes or confused with specific stages of life. Like all socially constructed categories, generations are most useful in the context of other demographics and shared social experiences, such as:

About the author

The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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