March of the under 10s – generation growing up as protesters

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent
Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Political protest, spotting fake news and taking control of new technology comes naturally to the UK’s under 10s, the so-called Alpha generation and the first cohort born into the fully-fledged social media age, new research reveals.

One in five children aged between five and nine have already attended their first march or protest about something they care about, and half of their parents are encouraging them to speak out as activists, according to a survey carried out for Beano Studios, which owns the comic brand.

As children prepare for a fresh school climate strike on Friday, the study of 2,000 parents and 1,500 children also found that the generation born since 2010 are less likely to get sucked into spending time on their devices than their older siblings and take a proactive attitude towards tech, with half making videos and a third enjoying computer coding.

And for parents concerned about children experiencing too much screen time, three quarters of under-10s say they still climb trees.

The Alpha generation – people born after 2010 – has played a high-profile role in recent climate change protests, including action by Extinction Rebellion.

Sophie Davies, 10, helped set up the first schools climate strike in Redditch in Worcestershire and will be out campaigning this Friday.

“It is quite scary that we only have 12 years to sort [the climate] and if we don’t, we don’t know what will happen,” she said. “But I do quite like getting out and making a difference. Because children my age can’t vote, it’s the least you can do.”

Arthur Castel-O’Leary, a five-year-old from Romford in Essex, has been to climate protests, including on Waterloo Bridge and at Oxford Circus, said his mother, Noleen O’Leary.

“He gets so involved, it is incredible,” she said. “He joins in fully with the chants of ‘What do we want? When do we want it?’ But the thing is, he can’t say ‘now!’, he says ‘now, please.’”

Arthur has also declared himself a vegan and picks up rubbish he sees in the street and comments: “That’s not good for the planet.”

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, has proved to be a role model for some, but others such as Ruby, a Scottish nine-year-old who took on a catalogue company over gendered clothing, have adopted different causes.

She challenged the company because “girls need clothes for adventures too” with practical shoes and more pockets.

Bruce Adamson, the children and young people’s commissioner in Scotland, said he had worked with primary school-aged activists on local issues including litter in coastal towns and on poverty in deprived parts of Glasgow.

“One of the positive things about social media is it does allow for information [to be shared] and for organisation among young human rights defenders,” he said. “It is worrying they have to engage on some of these issues, but it is a positive evolution of the way we exercise power.”

But ensuring young activists are educated, supported and protected from reprisals was essential, he added.

Related: Move over, millennials and Gen Z – here comes Generation Alpha

The survey also found 57% of under-10s do not feel that gender matters, compared with 32% of their parents. Two thirds of girls felt it was not important, a larger proportion than boys.

While there are signs that creative play is often being channelled through technology, with 86% using technology to design, build and make things, the alpha generation displays a measure of scepticism about the internet.

Almost three quarters (73%) say they are confident online and the same proportion feel it is important to question what they see, while almost a third believe they can spot fake news.

“Gen Alpha is the generation that will seek to bend the digital world to their needs and ambitions and not be defined or consumed by it,” said Emma Scott, chief executive at Beano Studios.

“They will set aside our current worldview stereotypes of identity and difference and their love for cherishing and saving the physical world around them will literally change the face of our planet.”