Millennials gave birth to ‘Generation Alpha.’ Are these kids already doomed?

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Zoomers fear them. Boomers want more of them. Millennials will keep making them for the rest of the year.

Born between roughly 2010 and the end of 2024, “Generation Alpha” is the demographic successor to Gen Z. Its oldest members are not quite ready for a quinceañera, while its youngest will be conceived in the coming weeks.

When the last of them arrive this December, they’ll close the largest cohort of children ever to exist on Earth. There are already concerns that the kids aren’t “alright.” The overwhelming majority have yet to graduate elementary school, and 1 in 5 are still in diapers, yet they are widely being called “feral,” illiterate” and “doomed” on YouTube and TikTok — where alphas themselves make up a large and growing share of users.

Blame bad parenting by millennials or tech companies or both — but many of those responsible for setting the discourse online agree we should be worried for them.

“Everyone on the internet is really scared of Gen Alpha,” said Gen Z influencer Rivata Dutta, aka Riv, whose content is popular with alphas on TikTok. “They’re like, oh my God, Gen Alpha is so weird.”

Despite decades of declining birth rates and years of hand-wringing over a pandemic baby bust, there are now more than 2 billion alpha children worldwide — more than quarter of the population of the planet — and some 6 million in California alone.

And some aspects of their culture are sparking backlash.

Baby decor in “sad beige”? That’s Gen Alpha.

Screen-obsessed iPad kids? Alphas again.

Beauty-store barbarian Sephora tweens stampeding through skin-care aisles and slathering their baby faces in retinol? Alphas, allegedly.

In recent months, the alphas have emerged as TikTok’s newest supervillain, a designation that has followed them into mainstream media. If zoomers are delicate snowflakes, alphas are the opposite — a horde of marauders chasing Drunk Elephant beauty products.

But where did this reputation come from? And why is it ascendant now, when the last alphas are still in utero?

“There’s more children today than ever before, [and] more than there will be in the future,” said Mark McCrindle, the demographer who coined the name “Generation Alpha” in 2008. “We’ve hit peak children.”

‘I need to ask millennials — why are your kids so awful?’

Alphas are overwhelmingly the offspring of millennials (those born 1981-1996), who have famously been accused of destroying such beloved American establishments as the department store, the housing market and the institution of marriage.

Now, according to wide swaths of the internet, millennials are ruining childhood for the next generation.

“I need to ask millennials — why are your kids so awful, and more importantly, why do you think it’s so funny?” TikToker Alanna Dinh said in a viral video in November.

Many Gen X and Gen Z families also have alphas — the oldest zoomers just hit the median age of first birth in the US, while the youngest Xers are still several years from menopause — but millennial parents have defined the genre.

It begins with the sad beige baby.

This aggressively oatmeal aesthetic has dominated infant care since around Gen Alpha’s midpoint in 2017, desaturating high chairs, play gyms and diaper pails from electric green to subtle sage. Even Fisher Price has toned down its color pallet in response to the market demand for more muted, less-gendered clothes, toys and gear.

When it comes to school-age alpha children, the concern has been focused on the much-maligned “iPad kid” — a child who cannot sit through a restaurant meal or a brief ride on public transit without mainlining YouTube from a tablet in a plastic case.

“The stigma is to not have our kids on screen time all the time, but I probably check my phone just as often,” said Chris Chin, 39, whose 8-year-old son Kaven is a YouTube star with half a million Gen Alpha followers. “As long as he keeps his grades up, I let him do what he wants, and most of the time he chooses to jump on the iPad.”

Elementary-age viewers flock to Kaven’s channel to watch him navigate new games on Roblox, frolic through lavish Disney vacations and unbox surprise egg toys — entertainment most teen and adult observers find baffling but anodyne.

Other facets of the Gen Alpha zeitgeist are more extreme. Case in point: Skibidi Toilet, the violent, vaguely scatological short-form video series that debuted in February 2023. It shares the market with popular horror games, including Rainbow Friends and Poppy Playtime, which may shock some grown-ups with their colorful cartoon-creature bloodshed.

And yet, the creations are low-key mainstream, with fanged Huggy-Wuggy dolls hanging from the stalls of street vendors and in the toy aisle at WalMart.

For a curious grade-schooler, experts say, YouTube more often works like Wikipedia, answering questions like, where is the oldest tree on Earth? How do you defeat Shy Guy on Level 4 of Paper Mario? What are boogers made of?

“A kid who may not have access to art lessons, we have a creator who does exactly that,” said Amanda Klecker of pocket.watch, which represents blockbuster kid creators such as Ryan’s World and Art for Kids Hub. “They will show you a really cool illustration, and the dad and the daughter will break it down side by side” so that the child watching can learn to draw it, too.

Others, including the Gen Z influencer Dutta, agreed with that assessment.

“When I’m hanging out with kids now, they have so much energy, and they are so well-informed,” Dutta said. “They have all this information at their fingertips.”

That information translates to influence with busy and relatively permissive millennial parents: Kids now increasingly determine what their families buy, where they vacation and even what they watch on TV, studies show.

“Our kids these days are so intelligent,” said Anges Hsu of Hello Wonderful, whose 6-year-old has read hundreds of digital books, despite growing up in a home filled with physical ones. “This is going to be one of the smartest generations of our lifetime.”

But not everyone is so sanguine.

‘A whole generation of failure’

Illiteracy is among the most frequent and damning critiques leveled against Gen Alpha online. It is also empirically true of a demographic whose median age is 6½.

In California, children are expected to be able to read around December of first grade, meaning the majority of alphas should have been literate by New Year’s Day.

Yet thousands are still struggling, making reading among the starkest reminders of a pandemic most teens and adults would prefer to move past.

Alphas “are some of the hardest-hit kids when it comes to reading,” said Shervaughnna Anderson-Byrddirector of the California Reading and Literature Project. “Only 43% of our students are on grade level in California.”

Today’s average L.A. Unified fourth-grader spent half of kindergarten and the entirety of first grade at home, learning the foundations of reading on a Chromebook. By the time that same student returned to the classroom as a second-grader in August of 2021, they had effectively reached the end of formal phonics instruction.

“That’s why we have so many third-graders whose scores look abysmal [on last year’s state assessments],” Anderson-Byrd said. “We’ve set up a whole generation of failure for these kids.”

Reading is essential for all academic work from late elementary school forward, she said. Yet, even English teachers aren’t trained to teach phonics and other remedial skills beyond the early grades. That’s left fourth-graders who were somewhat behind when the pandemic hit in 2020 still functionally illiterate in eighth grade.

“Teachers are complaining they have 14-year-olds who can’t read,” Anderson-Byrd said.

Those complaints are echoed on TikTok and Reddit, where teachers cite lack of reading skills as one of the reasons they are leaving the profession.

The “kids can’t read and they are out of control in school because of it,” one teacher wrote in a February post on the r/Teachers subreddit titled “They don’t know how to read. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Local librarians take a somewhat brighter view, noting that while circulation is still down since the pandemic, digital loans of popular series such as Dogman, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol remain strong.

“The e-books and audiobooks, those go like hotcakes,” said Grisel Oquendo, children’s fiction selector for the L.A. County Library system.

Younger Alphas are also likely to benefit from the nationwide shift away from balanced literacy and towards the phonics-based science of reading, which could soon become mandatory under California law.

But for the older half of the generation, that move may be too late.

“We hear people complaining [alphas] lack empathy — well, you learn that through literature,” Anderson-Byrd said. “There’s a lot of blame being placed on these babies when it’s the adults setting the narrative.”

‘A lot more chaos coming’

The last six months have seen the rise of the newest Gen Alpha stereotype: the Sephora tween. These serum-obsessed 12-year-olds have been filmed plundering beauty stores — spoiling samples, terrorizing grown-up shoppers and hoarding expensive products formulated for mature skin.

Experts say it’s no coincidence that the flurry of doomed prognosticating about Gen Alpha emerged just as the oldest were entering puberty, the developmental apex of obnoxious behavior and poor taste.

They argue that rampaging through the skin-care aisle of Sephora or binge-watching Skibidi Toilet says less about an era than an age.

“The Sephora phenomenon, that’s a timeless characteristic of up-aging,” said McCrindle, the demographer. “We’re talking about children who are still developing their social skills and their behavior. Kids leaving makeup testers a mess goes with their life stage.”

Dutta, the influencer, agreed.

“Those are phases,” she said. “You want to be cool when you’re 10 .”

Still, she thinks alphas will stay strange.

“I definitely see a lot more chaos coming,” Dutta said. “Gen Alpha are naturally against the grain.”

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