by Rachel Ponte

Source: Artanq, iStock.

The term “iPad kid” has become a common way of describing Generation Alpha, also known as “iGen” — a pet name coined after the iPhone. This phrase describes a toddler or child glued to a tablet. These kids are regarded as being unable to function without the accompaniment of a screen, a result of tired parents pacifying their children with technology.  While it is a harmless joke about the world’s youngest generation, it points towards a real, growing issue amongst this generation. Beginning in 2010, Gen Alpha is the first generation that the world has begun to observe grow up into adolescence with touch screen technology at the helm. These children have grown up with social media and digital technology since birth, aging through every milestone with a screen propelled into their faces. 

As a university student surrounded by more student housing and bars than elementary schools and playgrounds —  my contact with this age group is limited. However, I am fortunate to be in the company of my 12-year-old sister. Through her, I have a window into the youth of 2024, a starkly different set of preteens than the Tumblr-obsessed, emo-music-loving peers I was surrounded with during my preteens. At her age, I was still hovering within the awkward phase of puberty — not quite a child, but not yet a teenager. My fashion sense consisted of big hairbows from Claire’s and heavily branded graphic t-shirts from Aéropostale or Abercrombie and Fitch. My sister and her friends, on the other hand, sport items that look fresh out of my university student wardrobe. I often feel as though I am looking in the mirror, observing the up-to-date and trendy outfits of these young kids. Not only are they wearing the same styles I do, but the brands they are wearing are trendy too. Their styles are curated from name-brand stores such as Lululemon and Aritzia — not quick dupes from somewhere like Garage. But where is this influence coming from at such a young age? How are these young girls at the age of 12 emulating the same aesthetics dressing as myself at the age of 21? The answer can be found in the influence of social media.

While the earliest of these kids phase out of the “iPad kid” era from their early developmental years, they now bring their technological skill set into their teens. Unlike previous generations, social media usage has been embedded in the learning process of these kids’ lives, akin to learning how to read. This has naturally resulted in an unprecedented level of accessibility to technology and social media for these children. Until around the age of 11, most of my influence came from content and media catered towards kids. The Disney channel and magazines such as BOP and TigerBeat influenced my fashion and sense of style. This only changed once I came into possession of a phone and therefore social media, exposing me to a new world of influence. The youth media that dictated my younger years have been phased out and replaced with the social media platforms of the 21st century. 

Now, the go-to source of entertainment for pre-teens is social media content created by “influencers” across various platforms. As social media is a limitless and minimally restricted landscape, it is easy for kids to access all kinds of content. At young ages, kids learn by mirroring the behaviour of those around them. They are like sponges. In this vein, what they are absorbing is content meant for people beyond their years —  creating a need to have a go at being older than they are. I see the unfortunate implications of this pattern time and time again. Most recently, for example, I can reference the phenomenon of 10-year-olds in Sephora, a manifestation of the self-esteem and body image issues social media instill  within young girls’ minds. Many studies have further revealed social media’s adverse effects on adult confidence levels. What else might be harmed or taken away from the youth of children? 

Now that social media is more integrated and constant in the lives of adolescents than ever before, what might be the long-term implications of this as Gen Alpha ages into adulthood? Studies have proven the negative link between social media usage and self-image in young girls, so how will this translate to the adult generations of the future? 

I want to protect my little sister and her friends from the potential damage of social media—to allow them to be innocent and carefree while they still can. But I can’t reverse the invention of the tools that have their generation nicknamed as the “iGen” and that have instigated these issues in the first place. So how can we curb these harms instead? The answer may lie in awareness, balance, and support—especially from parents. According to research by the American Psychological Association (APA), there can be a healthy balance of social media usage in teen’s lives. Regardless, much work needs to be done in this area of “new parenting,” lest the harmful impacts of social media get too far deep into our future generations.

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