Jan 26, 2024 - News

Richmond's Generation Alpha is taking on unprecedented challenges

Illustration of the alpha symbol with a digital glitch effect

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

One of every seven Richmonders belongs to Gen Alpha, the generation of kids born between 2010 and 2024, according to an Axios analysis of 2022 American Community Survey data.

The big picture: The oldest are only 14 and have already grappled with a climate crisis, a pandemic and being the first to grow up entirely online, writes Axios' April Rubin.

Why it matters: They're projected to be the largest generation in history, and the events that shape them will eventually shape the city's future.

What's happening: The combination of being in virtual school during critical development years and having greater access to technology at younger ages than previous generations is brewing high anxiety levels.

  • It's also forcing kids to become more attuned to the world around them earlier, which can shape anxiety around safety and the future.
  • That's according to Katie Francis, the mental health services program manager at Childsavers, a Richmond nonprofit focused on trauma-informed therapy for children.

Details: Missing the middle school years, for example, can mean losing out on needed conflict management and social skills learned at the time, Francis tells Axios.

  • So instead of conflict playing out on the playground, "it's playing out on the internet."
  • For some in Richmond, there's the added stress of gun violence — which is increasingly recorded on video in ways previous generations didn't deal with, Francis says.

By the numbers: The mental health impact is statewide.

  • More than half of Virginia's middle school students reported "problematic depressive thoughts" in the past year, per a 2023 state survey.
  • More than 1 in 10 reported seriously considering suicide.

Zoom in: Then there's the social media world Gen Alpha is navigating, which increasingly targets them and their parents are newly learning, says Sean McKenna, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

  • "It's causing them to have to figure things out on their own more often than we'd like them to," McKenna adds.

Yes, but: Social media is also exposing this generation to possibilities and giving them the opportunity to be "silly and goofy," which can be difficult now that "there's so much more to carry as a young person," says Kristin Lennox, director of engagement at Voices for Virginia's Children.

The bottom line: "We really owe it to ourselves to not so much ask what's different about this generation and a little bit more of what's different about the world we're placing this generation in?" VCU's McKenna says. "What challenges are we putting up for them?"

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