Unmotivated, lazy and addicted to social media - there is certainly no shortage of prejudice against Generation Z. Quite a few companies despair of the attitude of young employees. For these so-called post-millennials, leisure seems to be more important than work, and they are not interested in careers anyway. And it gets even thicker. For a long time now, an even greater challenge has been growing up in parents' homes: the Alpha Generation (born in 2010 or younger).
Generation Alpha is the first generation to grow up entirely with smartphones and tablets. The first generation to play online games before they can even speak. Instead of making an appointment, she sends WhatsApp messages. And if anyone is still interested in news, it's on Instagram. One thing is clear: When it comes to digital media, the Alpha generation is unrivaled.
But when it comes to motivating the children of the alpha generation to learn, many parents despair (admittedly: sometimes we do too). The youngsters would rather play Minecraft for hours than practice math. Instead of learning poems, pop songs are sung and danced for Tiktok. And instead of training for top performance in sports, Fortnite skills are being honed. Can the Alpha Generation still be motivated to perform?
Of course! First of all, we should make it clear: Every child is born motivated. Nature created the motivation in us humans, it is the source of energy for our actions. Only the motivation to discover things, to break new ground and to get to know the world has made us what we are today. Motivation is in all of us - and of course also in the Alpha Generation.
And yet you have probably experienced it yourself when someone has told you that your child is not motivated. That it is disinterested or lazy. As if lack of motivation is a character description. Rather, it is a sign that motivation that once existed was destroyed by negative learning experiences. For example, through bad grades or a lack of recognition for your own efforts. Or by depriving young people of any personal responsibility. That they are hardly allowed to decide for themselves how they learn.
And what do we parents think of? We try to motivate our junior staff through external incentives. As if diligence cards, grades and grades at school weren't enough extrinsic incentives, we try to make adjustments with certificate money and small rewards for good class work. Or about penalties if things don't go smoothly. And may even have noticed that it works, at least in the short term. But this form of extrinsic motivation harbors a great danger: we condition our children to work hard for something in return. And thus train them to lose their inner motivation.
The key to lasting performance lies precisely in this inner drive. Many school performance studies have shown how important this so-called intrinsic motivation is for the performance of students. Even children with low intellectual capacity can achieve good results with sustained high levels of motivation. And it is precisely this intrinsic motivation that can be awakened. Because children and young people feel competent to master a task. Because they have the feeling that they can decide for themselves what and, above all, how they learn.
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Perhaps Generation Alpha is showing us how learning should actually work in the 21st century. Instead of agonizing over the agony of memorizing poems from centuries past, as many generations have done before them, children today prefer to create their own music videos, learning lyrics while doing so, and developing their own dance choreographies on top of that. And show us the power of autonomous learning. How motivated would students be to learn if they could design their own lessons in the same way instead of just concentrating on good grades.
Computer games like Fortnite, on the other hand, manage to constantly adapt to the player's abilities. As a result, they always remain challenging but doable. And in this way we repeatedly create a sense of achievement that can be traced back to improving our own skills. How motivating it would be if children were just as constantly learning at their individual skill level. What if they were challenged, but at the same time had the chance of regular success?
The key to success lies in motivation. Generation Alpha shows us how outdated our learning concepts are. Because they are static and not based on the individual abilities of the child. Because they take every space for autonomy. Digital media and online games have long shown us how children can be motivated. Time for a fresh start! By being open to what really interests our children. Open to what our children feel competent in and what they grow with. And so give them new challenges again and again. Gladly also completely analogue. Perhaps Generation Alpha is showing us how learning could work in the future.
Sebastian Dettmers is CEO of the job portal Stepstone (belongs to Axel Springer like WELT) and author of the current bestseller “The Great Unemployment” (2022). Swantje Dettmers studied psychology and later did his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. As a scientist, she has researched, among other things, homework and the importance of the parental home for school education. Today she works as a psychological consultant in a foundation for talent recognition and promotion.