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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: 12-year-old worried about the "Year 2000"

Dear Jan,

I was shocked the other day when my twelve-year-old daughter remarked, "I'm not going to live past the year 2000. Everybody says terrible things are going to happen." We live in a part of the U.S. that is heavily populated with people who believe we're in the biblical "end times," but from what I've gathered, this belief is rampant all across the country. My concern is with the effect this must be having on the children, yet no one seems to address this issue. I remember growing up with the fear of a nuclear war, but at least that was indefinite. This idea comes with dates and horrific descriptions of disasters, and headlines blaring from every tabloid in the supermarket. Do you have any insights about what our children may be experiencing, and how to counteract the ill effects of this "millennial panic"?

Genevieve

Jan's reply:

Dear Genevieve,

Thank you for writing about this timely concern. As we approach the year 2000, the "Y2K" computer problem and other kinds of fears are generating more and more dire predictions and even panic. While computer malfunctions will inevitably bring some degree of inconvenience and frustration while programs are being fixed, this type of problem is easy to overestimate, and because it is happening at the end of a millenium, can lend itself to apocalyptic fears. It is interesting to note that the year 1000 also brought about many kinds of panic reactions and group hysteria. It seems to be part of the human condition to fear such dates, even though they are, after all, man-made and arbitrary.

Many families are beginning to make preparations, such as stocking up on food and other necessities, and to express their fears and worries about the nature and duration of the effects of the computer problem on our lives. Even when undertaken by loving parents, these kinds of preparations can be frightening to children, who are unable to understand the problem, let alone the solution.

Fortunately, there are knowledgeable writers who are speaking out to help keep these matters in perspective. I especially recommend "The Millenium Thought Contagion" by Aaron Lynch, author of the best-selling book Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society (Basic Books, 1996). Links to related articles and to a German translation of Aaron's article are provided.

As with any other kind of frightening situation, it's important for us as parents to stay informed and to encourage our children to discuss their fears by taking their feelings seriously, listening respectfully to their worries and concerns, and offering reassurance and understanding.

Jan

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