Any parents out there will know this as fact – for every good thing you do, you’ll still beat yourself up about all the other things you’ve either done badly, or not done at all. My daughter ate all of her broccoli at dinner – WIN. But she still can’t solve 11 x 10 (no matter how many times I’ve explained it) – FAIL. And then I let her have her iPad to scour YouTube for an hour before bed, instead of reading her book. FAIL. Oh, and you did read that right. She’s six and has her own iPad. So does my four-year old. I gave the older one mine when her friend laughed at her on vacation for not having her own – see more great parenting there. I ignored the learning opportunity about the value of money and not being spoiled and gave in immediately, hoping to get some peace and quiet on a sun lounger. The younger one has now claimed my work one (sorry Hotwire).

Despite the cries from neuroscientists (believe me, I’ve been berated for this by one while on a speaker panel at an event), I am far from alone. Even though we feel that mommy guilt, the majority of us are all doing it. According to our report with Wired – Understanding Generation Alpha – over 55% of three-to-four-year-olds use a tablet.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when it comes to our kids using tablets (yes we’ll always need to feel bad about them not eating their greens) and start looking at the benefits. Let’s go one step further and ask how technology can make our kids better? At the very least, we need to understand how it’s changing who our kids are and will become, so we can keep up!

So how is technology changing our kids’ minds? Dramatic headlines like Google is making us stupid and Smartphones are turning us into zombies miss the point – tech isn’t making us stupid. It’s freeing our minds to concentrate on more intellectually demanding activities.

Even now, there’s less emphasis on memorizing times tables to understand multiplication, and more focus on understanding the problem itself. As new technologies are developed we could see this amplified even more – self-driving cars and the internet-of-things technology will help remove the need to use our brains for traditional tasks and focus on solving bigger problems.

But it’s not all about work. Technology has also impacted how our kids spend their free time. From video games and smartphones to tablets, the capacity for our kids to be constantly entertained outweighs anything we experienced growing up. And not necessarily for the worse. Research from 2013 linked video games to improved cognitive skills such as hand-eye coordination and the ability to multitask. Other studies have found that playing certain video games can lead to children scoring higher on intelligence tests, due to improved visual response and problem-solving skills. And let’s not forget the recent arrival of voice assistants like Alexa or Google Home – kids are now looking up from the screens and are interacting through voice interfaces with the environment around them in a more personal and fulfilling way. Google recently announced it was going more family-friendly with 50 new audio experiences tailored for our little ones in partnership with brands like Disney. But while my youngest squealed in delight at the thought of Alexa reading the story of Snow White, I do question what will happen when she then asks her what kind of apple it was, what does bashful mean and can a kiss really wake you up from poison?

And then there’s the plethora of AI devices now flooding the market – making entertainment even more personalized to suit the individual. This is what Gen Alpha is learning to expect from entertainment and it’s what they will demand from all brands they engage with as they grow into adults.

So what does this mean for comms?

  1. If we want to communicate to an audience with neither the capacity or desire to remember facts, we’ll need to change the game – our proactive communications will have to entertain people in a memorable way and keep them coming back for more. We shouldn’t bother throwing facts around, because they won’t stick. Instead we’ll focus on tightly targeted placement of our reactive communications so we make an impact when Generation Alpha needs answers – the winners will be those that can be persuasive, brief and most visible on Google.


  2. When Generation Alpha comes of age, what place will the screen have as a marketing channel? Voice may finally make a comeback after years of being pushed aside by email and messaging. Whereas, video content ticks the entertainment box, when it comes to eliciting a response, voice could well be the medium where brands can directly engage on an individual basis to provide real meaning on a personal and collective basis. But, brands will need to remember to build depth as well as breadth into their voice-activated campaigns – it’s no good setting up a voice system which can’t deal with follow up questions.


  3. It’s a whole new world out there and we won’t reach Generation Alpha through out-of-home, point-of-sale or digital ads – what we’ve been accustomed to. Instead we’ll need to talk to them at their point of need – when they ask Alexa for a recommendation on their next toothpaste or when they’re browsing YouTube for their next meal. The bravest, and arguably most successful marketers will develop subtle communications campaigns that won’t even talk about their own brands e.g. the meal their content recommends may not feature a single one of their products. But it will meet a need and make Generation Alpha trust them as a content provider first and a brand marketing to them second. By building this emotional connection over time, we’ll create a different kind of relationship, one which is personal to the consumer of tomorrow, and puts them first.