ESTACIO: Accompanying Gen Alpha

February 14, 2023

Generation Alpha, or Gen Alpha, is the young people born between 2010 and 2025. A few years ago, Mark McCrindle, a social researcher and analyst, coined this term, and it stuck. More data on this generation will come out, and how we interact with these young people may change, but these initial observations are important for our families and our parish leaders to make a note of. I have my own children who are part of this generation; thus, it is important for me to look more deeply at the general characteristics that make up Gen Alpha.

This is the most educated generation in history. Learning is highly personalized, and the options for schooling — private, public, homeschool, hybrid — are many and varied. A student can learn in a myriad of ways, and access to information can be immediate.
Like Gen Z before them, Generation Alpha is inundated with technology. For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop with the most recent news of ChatGPT (an AI bot that engages in human-like dialogue) trending a few weeks ago. Social media, and all that goes with it, continues to heavily impact the lives of our youth.

Many young people of Gen Alpha come from a variety of different non-traditional households.

They can come from a two-parent home, a single-parent home, a multi-generational home, parents who may not actually be the biological parents of the young person, or a variety of other configurations. These different types of household situations are increasing significantly, and the way we minister to families at our parishes needs to be thought through.

Additionally, many young people can come from unstable and dysfunctional homes, and this can lead to the need for mental health services. As with previous generations, self-harm, anxiety and stress continue to be on the rise for young people, and it needs to be addressed.
Lastly, they are a generation that is fluid in how they relate to the world. As a result, the way they look at life, from how they eat to how they view religion, can vary and change. There are other characteristics, and more are sure to come forth, but this gives a broad picture of Gen Alpha.

In youth ministry, there is a saying: “We have to meet them where they are at.” Pope Francis refers to this concept as accompaniment. We journey with young people and bring them to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Understanding this current generation is to respectfully listen to their hearts and patiently journey with them in their lives.

We can all look at the young people in our parishes or communities, and we can meet them where they are at. I would like to propose two things we can look at to truly accompany Gen Alpha.

In May 2021, Christian Smith, a sociologist from Notre Dame, wrote the following in an article for First Things: “The good news is that, among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children’s religious outcomes… In almost every case, no other institution or program comes close to shaping youth religiously as their parents do.”

I would suggest that whoever is raising the young person is the “parent,” and he or she needs help. How can our parishes or communities support parents in passing on the faith to their children?

Young people are constantly changing, and how we react to them matters greatly. The next time a young person comes to you, sit and listen to what they have to say. Try to understand where they are coming from before you say anything. “Each young person’s heart should thus be considered ‘holy ground,’ a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must ‘take off our shoes’ in order to draw near and enter more deeply into the Mystery.” (Christus Vivit, 67)

Some things have changed in youth ministry and in our world in general.

There are other things that continue in much the same manner. One reality that will not change is young people are both the present and future of the Catholic Church, and they are a gift to us. How we serve and accompany matters. 

Dunn Estacio is an associate director with the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.