Adults Have Overreacted to Y2K

An extensive survey of kids and Y2K by Junior Achievement reveals that 72% of kids believe adults have overreacted to Y2K. In contrast, kids are overwhelmingly excited about Y2K and the prospects of the new millennium. The survey, entitled "Y2Kids: Children's Views of the New Millennium," was conducted the first week of December 1999. A total of 1,449 kids ages 8-18 were asked to give their impressions of Y2K, the twentieth century and the new millennium.

The 72% of kids surveyed who believe adults have overreacted to Y2K represent 40 million of the 58 million school-age children in America. Kids believe adults have overreacted most to potential problems related to the Internet, credit cards, TV and utilities. On the flip side, they believe adults have not reacted enough to problems related to military systems. Additionally, older students are more likely to think adults have made too much of a big deal about Y2K.

While adults are busy stockpiling food, withdrawing extra money from their bank accounts and planning not to fly on New Year's Day, kids are getting excited about the new millennium. Asked to describe their strongest feeling about Y2K, more than half of the kids surveyed (53%) say they are excited. One-quarter express feelings of uncertainty, 16% are nervous and 8% are afraid of the coming of the new millennium.

Boys are more excited about Y2K than girls, who are more apt to express feelings of uncertainty, nervousness and fear about Y2K. Elementary school students are twice as fearful of Y2K as middle and high school students, but they also express higher levels of excitement than the older students do. They are excited about the idea of a new millennium, but worried that adults might be right in expecting some potentially scary problems caused by the Y2K bug.

Television is the primary source of Y2K information for kids. Eighty-six percent of students have learned about Y2K from TV. Radio and friends follow TV as secondary sources with 61% of kids turning to them for information. Six-out-of-ten kids learn about Y2K from their parents, newspapers or magazines. One-in-five students get millennial guidance from a religious figure.

Two-thirds of respondents correctly identified the "Y2K bug" as a computer calendar's inability to convert dates from 1999 to 2000. Thirty-six percent (36%) think the Y2K bug is either a computer virus, the newest Pokemon, a genetically-engineered insect or a seasonal flu. They represent 20 million kids who do not know what the Y2K bug is. Older students have a better understanding of the Y2K bug. While less than half of elementary school students correctly identified the Y2K bug, 63% of middle school students and 76% of high school students defined it correctly.

Based on the percentage of kids who correctly identified the "Y2K bug" as a computer calendar's inability to convert dates from 1999 to 2000, religious figures, movies, magazines and newspapers provide young people with the most accurate understanding of the Y2K bug. Television, the most prevalent source of Y2K information, leaves students with the least accurate perception of the Y2K bug and the greatest feeling of uncertainty about it. Parents are seventh in a list of nine sources in providing accurate information about Y2K. They also are the source of the greatest feelings of nervousness about the new millennium. Students who consult their parents for Y2K information are the most worried about the safety of their money in their bank accounts and have higher levels of concern about their home computers and Internet services.

Students were asked whether they believe the Y2K bug will cause problems in 12 specific areas, ranging from emergency services, banks and utilities to home computers, airplanes and military systems. Two-thirds of those surveyed, representing 38 million young people in the general populace, think computers will have significant problems because of Y2K. More than 50% think the Internet and banks will suffer malfunctions. Another 44% are concerned about credit cards working properly.

One-third of kids think military systems and airplanes will malfunction. One-quarter are worried that emergency systems, such as police and fire departments, will be hampered, while a similar number think their Nintendo 64 or Playstation will be on the fritz. Thirty-nine percent of young people, representing 23 million kids, ages 8 to 18, think there will be significant problems across-the-board.

Kids with bank accounts are four times more likely to be worried about the safety of their money than kids without bank accounts. More than one-quarter of students think their personal computer will crash and 30% predict that their Internet service will not work. Younger students are more worried about each of these problems than older students.

Despite the predictions of problems caused by Y2K, kids are still excited about the event. Growing up during an era of record prosperity in America, kids see a prosperous future ahead and presume that all problems will be solved and all obstacles will be overcome. The Y2K bug is merely a small bump in the road to a new millennium that will usher dynamic technological and social advances.

Kids were asked to rate the likelihood of 20 possible innovations in science, medicine, space, politics and social reform becoming reality in the next millennium. Of the 20 prospects, kids chose the election of the first woman president (79%) as the most likely event to occur. In the realm of science, 73% believe videophones will replace telephones, while 60% believe we will travel in flying cars, humans will be cloned and robots will be a part of daily life. Star Trek fans will be happy to know that 25% of kids think "beaming" will be a standard mode of transportation. If the 31% of kids who believe time travel will be possible by the year 3000 are correct, then people in 2999 will be able to return to our time to find out how we dealt with the passing of one millennium into another.

The kids surveyed predict significant medical advances. Forty-three percent believe doctors will operate without making incisions and 34% believe we will have computer chips implanted in our brains to improve memory. One-in-five students predict that medical technology will be so advanced that it will enable males to give birth. But even with 1,000 years of medical improvements, only 18% believe we will eliminate disease outright.

If the kids surveyed are correct, the final frontier will become very familiar to humans. Seventy percent predict we will live on other planets. Another 36% believe we will visit other galaxies and 51% believe we will discover alien life as we explore new worlds. Young people also envision revolutions in politics, society and economics. Close to half of students believe we will no longer use paper money, one-in-five believe we will live under a single world government and 17% predict that we will end poverty altogether.

In order to achieve such extraordinary feats, the twenty-first century will need leaders and visionaries who excel at what they do and shape society through their efforts. The five most significant people of the 20th century and the events that have defined the last 100 years represent a diversity of missions and accomplishments.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is the Person of the Century according to the kids surveyed. He received twice as many votes as any other person. The choice for Event of the Century is testimony that kids acknowledge the sacrifices of the "Greatest Generation," those who fought and died in World War II.

People of the Century

1. Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Albert Einstein

3. Michael Jordan

4. Bill Gates

5. Bill Clinton

Events of the Century

1. World War II

2. The computer

3. Moon landing

4. Space exploration

5. Civil Rights movement

George Washington is the Person of the Millennium according to kids age 8-18. He also is the "father" of the Event of the Millennium -- the American Revolution. Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World rank second for each category.

People of the Millennium

1. George Washington

2. Christopher Columbus

3. Abraham Lincoln

4. Albert Einstein

5. Benjamin Franklin

Events of the Millennium

1. American Revolution

2. Discovery of the New World

3. Discovery of Electricity

4. World War II

5. End of slavery

Junior Achievement is the world's largest and fastest growing provider of economic education for young people. Since 1919, Junior Achievement has educated and inspired young people to value free enterprise, business and economics to improve the quality of their lives. Junior Achievement currently reaches more than 3.6 million students, from kindergarten through grade 12, in the United States and one million more young people in nearly 100 countries worldwide.

The Y2Kids study is part of a series of surveys on kids and issues related to economics issues called the Interprise Poll. The series includes surveys on summer jobs, personal finance, careers and leadership. The report and links to Y2K resources for kids also are available on the Junior Achievement Web site at www.ja.org.