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How the Year 2000 Problem Impacts Children

By William M. Ulrich
Tactical Strategy Group, Inc.

As part of our year 2000 community awareness building efforts, questions have been raised about how the problem might impact kids. Because most widespread calamities ultimately filter down and impact children, we felt that it was time to open a dialogue on this topic.

First, we should recognize that any prolonged and significant impact on society would also impact the children of that society. Young and old alike could suffer the discomfort of anticipated communication failures, healthcare and food shortages, power outages and other disruptions. We can assume that the minimum impact on children will be the result of these broader issues rippling down the chain and victimizing the younger generation. The overall impact of the year 2000 problem, however, is still based on a degree of speculation and anticipation.

Anticipation of catastrophic events, particularly on children, can take its toll. A few of us have already been confronted with anxiety expressed by the younger generation. A student-produced newspaper featured a story on Y2K written by a 6th grader. The same newspaper asked, "what problem would you solve in the world if you had the power to do so". Answers included world hunger and AIDS, but one 5th grader responded that she would solve the Y2K computer bug. Another student repeatedly questioned authoritative figures on the "worst case Y2K scenario" for society.

One student was having trouble dealing with the impending failure of computer systems. She worked through the resulting stress by creating a millennium board game where the school bus broke down, traffic lights failed and other hazards had to be navigated to get home from school in January of the year 2000. We have also found that some of the disabled are being frightened by mainstream media hype on the problem.

Discussions with stress researchers indicate that the year 2000 problem is still not on the radar screen of most mainstream teachers and students. A Luntz Research study reflects these findings in a survey of the general public. Luntz found that 70% of the general populace was still unaware of the problem. Of those surveyed that were aware of the problem, 93% believed that it would be corrected in time. We anticipate that much of the real concern will begin to escalate as we enter 1999 and people can actually see the date December 31, 1999 on their calendars.

A Cause for Low Grade Anxiety

A researcher from the Institute of Heartmath suggested that children are more computer literate than older generations. He believes that "low grade" anxiety could easily result from concerns over the impending failure of the machines that have become so much a part of their lives. He also pointed out that this type of anxiety has proven to degrade a child's ability to function in school or in other situations as much as 10%.

In addition to pre-2000 stress syndrome, there are real risks facing children as well. Projected food and drug shortages could impact children, particularly those with special needs. Healthcare degradation or general economic decline is another area where children could be impacted. FEMA and the Red Cross are looking at ways to deal with emergency situations, but action plans are yet to be put in place.

Additional risks to can be anticipated for children in low-income situations. Two of the U.S. government agencies that scored an "F" grade in recent reviews include the education department and the department of health and human services. Problems rippling down from the education department are more likely to be felt by adults first, and then by the children. Unpaid welfare checks or a delay in food stamp distribution, on the other hand, would directly impact the health and wellbeing of children that rely on those items. State agency initiatives face similar delays in many cases.

Dealing with Impending Stress

In anticipation that stress levels in children will escalate during the 1999 timeframe, we suggest that those parents, teachers and guardians educate themselves on the real risks of the year 2000. The lack of year 2000 awareness found in the general population is not conducive to stress reduction. Stress is the result of one's lack of understanding of an issue and the resulting inability to control the situation. Education is the first step in personal mobilization and contingency planning for those of all ages.

Preparing one's family for the year 2000 is prudent and children should be made aware of these preparations insomuch as it reduces their stress about the situation. Many people claim that preparing for the year 2000 by stockpiling food, wood, water, medicine and other essentials portrays a survivalist attitude. Those of us working on corporate initiatives believe that it is prudent for large companies to stockpile parts and raw materials as part of their contingency plans. Why then is it considered reactionary for individuals to follow this same line of thinking? The fact is that corporate, government and personal preparation for the year 2000 reflects sound judgement.

Corporations should consider the secondary impacts of the year 2000 on children when asked to sponsor local and national community task force teams. Similarly, offices of emergency services, national agencies, such as FEMA, and other crisis support centers should consider that the year 2000's impact on children during their 1999 planning cycles. Impacts on the economy, healthcare, food supplies, drug availability and other factors could ultimately hit children the hardest. There is no excuse for this happening when there is still time to prepare our society and ourselves.

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