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Generational dynamics in the digital age

This problem of maturity and age causes a drastic contrast between Gen Z and Gen Alpha—one generation struggling with the stress of adulthood while the other wishes to become older than they are.

Alex Green, Pexels
This problem of maturity and age causes a drastic contrast between Gen Z and Gen Alpha—one generation struggling with the stress of adulthood while the other wishes to become older than they are. Alex Green, Pexels

Our society has an obsession with looking young. We see actors and models in their fifties who have used Botox to achieve a certain look of elegance and grace— appearing not to have aged a day. We also see more and more young adults filtering their appearances to appear younger. Even AI images have flawless, heavily filtered, and uncanny skin. 

With those born between 1997 – 2010 (referred to as Gen Z), we witness a complex paradox of trying to look young but not actually being young. Instead of the traditional markers of childhood, such as playing with dolls, going outside, and playing sports, we see Gen Z navigating a digital landscape with the everlasting effects of social media. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z is maturing at an accelerated pace, where they (mainly consisting of early teenagers to approaching thirties) feel as though they are “aging like milk”. Their once-vibrant appearance is now souring with the passage of time. 

In a TikTok video with over 20 million views, Jordan Howlett, an internet personality, states that the reason why Gen Z is aging far more rapidly than the other generations may be due to the stress accompanied by the insecurity of what comes next. Howlett states that: “Gen Z is so worried about turning 30, that time when you’re supposed to have everything put together.” As a result, the aging of Gen Z is far more accentuated than the other generations like Millennials. 

Many people online find that age concern is not surprising given the fact that Gen Z was raised on social media along with enhanced technology like fillers and face-altering applications. It is particularly emphasized that the choices that Gen Z will have to make, the stress of adulthood, and the expectations to succeed are all displayed on social media. In an article in the New York Times, Renee Engeln, a professor at Northwestern University, emphasized the point that Gen Z has been scrolling endlessly through idealized versions of people and has rarely seen people who have naturally aged. Under the influence of social media, it becomes clear that while Gen Z may feel as though they are more rapidly aging than previous generations, this might not be the case. 

A glimpse at Sephora’s changing demographic, from full-grown adults to kids wearing full-on makeup. Cottonbro studio, Pexels

As the spotlight shifts from one generation to the next, and new cultural phenomena emerge, marking a stark generational divide. It’s not a surprise that each generation complains about the next generation after them, the latest complaint being Gen Z’s criticism of Gen Alpha’s obsession with skincare. As of January 2024, there came a new cultural phenomenon—“Sephora Kids.” Essentially, large mobs of Generation Alpha are rampaging into the cosmetic store, Sephora, ruining the displays and buying a cumbersome amount of anti-aging products. They do this all while being disrespectful to their parents and the employees. Besides the disregard for those around them, there is a large concern about why these children would buy these products (anti-aging serum, perfume, cosmetic supplies, etc) at such a young age. To many, the idea that a child would want a product that would allow them to appear even younger is perplexing. 

This trend raises multiple concerns among older individuals, sparking discussions about the perils of consumerism. Some claim that this rise in “Sephora Kids” may be due to the method of gentle parenting, where the parents never tell their children “no” and buy them whatever they desire. 

However, this concept of young children trying to imitate trends they see in social media and pop culture today is not surprising. It was previously seen in the 1970s with bleached hair using Sun-Ins while collecting LipSmackers, and children running to Claire’s to get their ears pierced. It was even noted by a psychologist in a Glamor Magazine article that playing with dolls is the earliest form of pretending to act beyond a certain age. However, these young children are taking a step further by pretending to be a different age. The current issue still prevails: why are children as young as five years old stressing out about skincare when they haven’t even begun to experience their childhood? 

The most immediate issue about this phenomenon is the fact that Gen Alpha are ruining their skin in the process of trying to preserve their youthful appearance at an even younger age. As reported by USA Today, retinol—a popular anti-aging product—caused dermatologists to worry about children who are using these products when they do not need them. According to dermatologist, Dr. Brooke Jeffy told the CBC that retinol is one of the central components that damages a child’s skin; making it more prone to infections, compromising the skin barriers, and lessening its protection against ultraviolet light. Dr. Jeffy believes that social media should be blamed for constantly exposing children to marketing brands that advertise their glamorous models and their products. As opposed to the previous generations who were collecting LipSmackers that were not harmful, retinol is detrimental to their health and causes Gen Alpha to age even faster than before. 

As Gen Alpha grows and changes, the influence of technology and social media remains prevalent. Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

In addition to the prevalent issue of health risks, another problem lies in the fact that Gen Alpha is trying to behave and act older than they are. Even though Gen Alpha is the youngest generation currently, they have already left their mark on the world with the heavy influence of technology and the fact that they have grown up with COVID-19. Some people believe that using technology at an early age allows Gen Alpha to gain knowledge faster, live longer, and retire later. However, because of this, they have been raised to believe that they are “grown-ups” who can speak to whoever they want however they want and are faced with no repercussions.

On the other hand, others believe that because social media has been so intertwined with their lives—allowing them to make their own decisions and personality online—they expect their individual needs to be prioritized over those of others. The detrimental disadvantages that come with this include a drop in attention span, limited social interaction skills, and stunted emotional development. This problem has been highlighted by many concerned parents and educators. More recently, a music educator, Teresa Kaye Newman has been addressing this issue about Gen Alpha on her TikTok. Her most famous post highlights the fact that there is a dismissal of Gen Alpha’s behaviors and academic problems which could spiral out of control if not dealt with properly. 

Will we need to change the way we educate our children to adapt to current society? August de Richelieu, Pexels

In this video, Newman emphasizes that she has had to constantly remind other people that Gen Alpha has been badly performing in discipline, education, and socialization. Despite the many factors that play a part in this like iPads, COVID-19, and a declining economy that led to parents spending less time with their children, Newman urges people to stop making excuses and to deal with this problem and mentions, “This is not just an old people complaining about young people problem anymore. Young people in Generation Z, young teachers who are seeing the same thing I’m seeing with my two eyeballs, are talking about the same thing.” She also stresses the urgency of addressing the pervasive rudeness and violence, emphasizing the need to cultivate a more engaged and respectful generation. Many others, including teachers and parents, agree and point to the decline of teachers in schools who cannot deal with Gen Alpha’s behavior any longer

With so many others taking to social media to address this issue, it seems this problem is much larger than originally expected. Because of this problem of maturity and age, there is a drastic contrast between Gen Z and Gen Alpha—one generation struggling with the stress of adulthood while the other wishes to become older than they are. A clear deciding factor between the problems is technology usage and how it has drastically affected both Gen Z and Gen Alpha. 

However, while Gen Z is learning how to manage their stress and anxieties through spreading awareness online, Gen Alpha consists of children and tweens who have not yet matured enough to make their own decisions (despite what some parents may claim.) The way these children are being educated is not going in the right direction. As a society, we need to make sure that schools, teachers, and parents are playing their role in properly directing Gen Alpha and changing the way we teach them. The right approach is not to point fingers at who caused the problem, but rather to adapt and change our attitudes and methods of educating them. It is important to teach them to be self-aware about their actions and choices, to build their social-emotional awareness, and to teach them to use technology responsibly. After all, the next generation will become our future as well. 


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