Generation Alpha

Back in 1988, our family had a reunion of my aunts, uncles, cousins and their families. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the birth of our grandmother. It was an opportunity to celebrate our family and to remember our past. Although our grandparents were not living at the time, their legacy was evident in the next two and three generations. Our children were seven and four at the time and were part of the youngest generation at the assembly. We were thinking of that occasion recently because my sister and I are in the early stages of planning a family reunion for the summer of 2021 on the occasion of the centennial of our mother’s birth. In there intervening years, we have become the elders of the family. The centennial of our father’s birth will be this December, so 2020 and 2021 are in some ways significant years because our lives were shaped by events of 1920 and 1921.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Dr. Morris Massey was a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and became quit famous for his theories about how humans and their values are shaped by the events of their lives. He observed how awareness of major historical events such as the Great Depression and World Wars helped to understand the values that people had. He described three major periods of value development.

The Imprint Period. Up to the age of seven, people are like sponges, absorbing the things around them and accepting the things that come from parents and community as true. The blind belief of this life stage can lead to trauma when the values are inconsistent or betrayal occurs. During these years, humans develop their sense of right and wrong, good and bad and these values are deeply imprinted.
The Modeling Period. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, we humans tend to copy other people. Often we copy our parents, but we also copy others. Rather than blind acceptance, there is a trying on of different lifestyles and values to see how they fit. Religion can make a big impression in this stage. Teachers have a big impact on students who are these ages.
The Socialization Period. Between the ages of 13 and 21, people are mostly influenced by their peers. Developing as individual and rejecting some of the values of earlier stages, people are shaped by media and sources outside of their family and community.

Massey’s theories have become somewhat dated, but his books and video programs, “What You Are is Where You Were When” still resonate with certain audiences. His 2006 DVD, “What You Are Is Where You Were When . . . Again!” still is selling on Amazon. His work has been foundational for later generational theorists such as William Strauss and Neil Howe, whose 1991 book, “Generations” traced 18 generations of American history and made generalizations about those generations. It was from that book that our parents’ generation became known as the “Greatest Generation,” and we became known as “Boomers.” Subsequent generational theorists have described Millennials, Generation X, Generation Z and Generation Alpha.

I’m not overly convinced that generational theory is quite as accurate or as predictive as some theorists, but my understanding of the world has been shaped by the work of these scholars. As such, thinking about significant anniversaries also gets me to thinking about those who will be born in the next couple of years. Just as Gen Z members don’t remember life before the 9-11attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon, those who are born in the next year will not remember a time before the Covid Pandemic or the crisis of global climate change. The first generation to be born entirely in the 21st Century is expected tor each two billion by 2025. Theirs is the first generation in the history of humanity when the number of people older than 65 exceeds the number of chidden under the age of 4. The largest numbers of this generation are being born in Africa and Asia, while Europe and North America lead the world in members of the aging population.

The babies born in the next few years will face many challenges to their health. Allergies, autism, asthma, and autoimmune disorders are far more prevalent among the young of this century than previous generations. Communicable diseases will continue to dominate the health of this generation. Obesity is replacing malnutrition as a defining characteristic of their generation. They also face health problems that were not significant issues for previous generations such as problems arising from screen time including an increase in nearsightedness.

Sociologists and demographers predict that problems will continue to grow along with increasing world populations. Their predictions aside, it is evident that the generation of children being born in these years will inherit a host of problems from previous generations.

It seems appropriate, then, during this 40 days of prayer for children, that we offer special prayers to those being born this year and in the year to come. Their lives will likely span a century of incredible change and frequent major upheavals.

We know, Gracious God, that you hold the future in your hands. You, who are not constrained by our human notions of time, understand all times, even those that we are not able to imagine. So we ask you, dear God, to hold those infants being born these days in your loving care. We understand that they will shape the future as previous generations have shaped the past. The story of humans on this planet will be affected by their values, choices and actions. May they grow in the grace to forgive our generation of the mistakes of our lives and discover the creativity to face the problems we are unable to solve.

We see the future of humanity in the faces of the tiny ones who are just being born. With grace their lives will extend far beyond the span of our own. May they know your blessings and guidance as they grow into adulthood and become the leaders of a future that lies beyond what we will ever know.

Bless the children, God. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!