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Millennium Bug Scare Can Frighten Kids

LAS CRUCES--As the countdown to the year 2000 continues, talk increases about what will happen on Jan. 1. Most often, we hear about possible millennium bug problems and how to avoid them. But all this speculation could create fear in children, says a New Mexico State University child development specialist.

"Kids have been hearing about the year 2000 for quite a while now, and so they know something really big is going to happen at midnight, Dec. 31, 1999," said Diana DelCampo with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "For some of them, because of some of the things they're seeing, it's kind of scary. For adults, it's kind of scary, too."

School-aged children and teens will be the most affected, because they understand enough to be worried, but do not have the maturity to work through the anxiety on their own, DelCampo said.

The interest and curiosity that kids have can turn into either excitement about the future or fear of the unknown. Children will be watching adults closely to see how they react to and deal with the issue.

Adults are concerned about the bigger issues like the collapse of world government and banking. Kids, however, are much more concerned about their immediate environment, DelCampo said. They might wonder if their video games will still work, if they'll be able to watch television, if they'll be warm.

"They want to know if they will still have food, of their refrigerators will work, and if their parents will freak out," she said.

There are several things parents can do to ease their children's worries, DelCampo said. First, listen to your children's fears and try to help sort them out. Once fears are put into words, they are much easier to deal with.

"One of the worst things we as adults can do is tell kids don't be afraid or don't be scared," DelCampo said. "It is much better to model understanding about what might happen, what probably won't happen and how we might want to deal with it."

Second, parents should monitor what their children are exposed to and them help them separate fact from fiction. For example, some people think that all the traffic lights will go out when the millennium hits. "Explain to kids that when traffic lights go out, everybody does a four-way stop or there are police officers there to help us not hit each other," she said.

Third, parents need to have their facts straight and know the possibilities. Tell your kids New Year's Day in 2000 will fall on a Saturday, which is not a regular work day. Also, let them know that computer experts have been working on the problem for several years. "Tell them there probably will be some computer glitches, but the world will not end," DelCampo said.

Finally, children need to be reassured that whatever happens, adults will be able to deal with it in a rational way. "They need to know that you will still be there for them," she said.