By: Oliviah Brown
January 25th, 2023
“Back in my day…” is a very common phrase many people from older generations use that usually make eyes roll, but as Gen X and the older members of Gen Z age, it seems that they are beginning to step into the shoes of those who came before them. They are noticing the changes being made to and by the up-and-coming generation, also known as Generation Alpha. From technology to play, children and young teens tend to look different than what we remember—the question is, why?
When the street lights went on in subdivisions and cities, everyone knew that it was time to run inside from playing with neighborhood friends after a day spent outside. Riding bikes, playing tag and making pretend, among other games, were what kept many children busy with other kids their age. Addison B., a 25-year-old and self-proclaimed Millennial, said that she remembers rollerblading around the neighborhood and jumping rope outside with her friends. But she noticed that things have changed since then.
When she looks outside, neighborhood streets are mostly vacant of playing children; instead, kids are actively present in online social media settings. Children nowadays are spending half the time outside than those from earlier generations, and one big cause of this is technology. Rebecca Kennedy writes, “Technology is the big headline. Children are bombarded with new entertainment mediums, from more established tech like TV and film to cutting-edge games, social media and mobile phones. There are more diversions than ever to occupy the minds and time of children.”
Addison commented that children today are “way more technologically literate, since they are growing up with so much more than I did.” While they aren’t playing outside as much as some did as children, they are advancing in other aspects a lot quicker than those who came before them. She also explained, “With technology being much more advanced for the younger generation, they’re a lot more fluent at younger ages. This will give them a lot more opportunities for jobs, whether that be social media marketing, coding, game design or creating their own new technology at levels past generations could only dream of.”
Another leading factor that could contribute to kids gravitating toward technology is the inaccessible infrastructure of cities, where playing outside isn’t deemed as safe as it should be. Kennedy said, “As the value of land increases, it can seem much more important to build new apartments or office blocks rather than leave open spaces for kids in cities to play in. Though many urban areas are waking up to the importance of open spaces for the happiness and productivity of its citizens, there are still huge financial pressures to make every open space a more ‘productive’ part of the landscape.”
Having no area to play creates the need to stay indoors and find new ways to interact and socialize outside of physical group settings such as school and after-school programs. The socialization that comes with being connected with others online beats having to meet with other people in person and is often easier when spaces designed for teens and children are becoming less available to use.
This isn’t a reflection of children’s lack of participation or interest in programs but the unwillingness of school districts to provide accessible, low-cost programs for teens and children of all socioeconomic backgrounds. According to Nikki Yamashiro, there are 24.7 million kids who would enroll in a program if it were feasible for them to, but some factors such as cost, location, and safety concerns hold parents back from allowing their children and teens to participate.
This can be seen as well in the falling participation rates in organized youth sports. According to the LA Times’ article “Kids are losing interest in organized sports. Why that matters” written by Laura Newberry, “In 2018, 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played an organized sport on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008 — mainly due to increasing costs, time commitments and the hypercompetitive nature of many sports.” The article goes on to say that the pandemic had a part in helping kids and parents reevaluate their interests in participating. Newberry quotes Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at MSU, when he said “they’ve been home on their computers, they’ve been gaming … it’s hard to get out of that pattern.”
The reality is the newest generation is not so unlike Gen Z, Millennials or Gen X they are simply adapting to the world that capitalism, society and social media are creating for them. While they might be seen looking down at their phones instead of chatting face-to-face with one another, they’re continuously socializing and interacting in a way that’s simply the norm. One can only guess at how much things will change even further down the line.
Oliviah Brown is a 5th year senior double majoring in English and professional writing, and minoring in digital humanities. Her aspirations are to use her studies to pursue a career in editing. When she’s not studying, she is usually reading or figuring out new recipes to bake.