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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