Millennium Kids Learn in Tech's Fast Lanes

April 11, 2005 | By Chris Parker

At 5 years old, Derbe Stroup knows how to operate the DVD player and television in the bedroom of his Palmerton home.

When his mother, Julie, brought her laptop computer home from work one day, Derbe commanded the cursor as though by instinct.

Welcome to the world of the mini-millennials.

Derbe is among 121,000 children now registering for kindergarten in the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania.

And when these children start school in late summer, they will represent the first students born after 2000—children who never lived at a time when the year started with “19.”

Experts say it’s not only the millennium that sets them apart.

In a world of racing technology, the tykes tend to be comfortable with electronic equipment and, thanks to greater access to the television and the Internet, more aware of—and more in touch with—each other and the world.

Neil Howe, co-author with William Strauss of “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” says post-2000 children represent “late-wave” members “of this new generation that we call Millennials”—people born since 1982.

“We would describe them as a generation of trends,” Howe said. “The elder members of this generation have been increasingly protected, increasingly regarded as special.”

The younger millennials have become increasingly oriented toward team or group activity, through team teaching in schools and computer instant messaging, he said.

“They are pushing technology in a group direction, just the opposite of the [baby] boomer generation,” Howe said.

It’s typical for each new generation to rebel against what was typical for its parents, says co-author Strauss. Most parents of the post-2000 children are from Generation X, those born from 1961 to 1981.

The Gen-Xers are known for their “relentless focus on the bottom line, the market-driven aspect,” Strauss said. “They are the most politically conservative voting bloc, and tend to be more cynical and careful.

“They are very fiercely protective. These were the latchkey kids of the 1970s. They were the children who grew up with divorced parents.

“A lot of the most protective parents are Gen-X moms, who were not protected as they grew up.”

Strauss said the need among Gen-Xers to protect their children fiercely was probably intensified by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Consequently, 9/11 could be the event that marks the end of the millennials and the beginning of the “homeland” generation.

“Concern about making these little kids secure is at the top of the list,” Strauss said.

That concern, Howe said, is leading to the use of microchips to track children.

The Japanese city of Osaka plans to put the chips onto children’s clothing or school bags. A Denmark school is considering a similar program. In California, students are required to carry identification tags with embedded chips.

“This protection is going to result in technologies and usages which today are unthinkable,” Howe said.

While it’s too soon to say how this will shape the mindset of the mini-millennials, much is already known about their older brothers and sisters.

The millennials—in what Howe and Strauss see as an act of rebellion to the bombardment of sex, drugs and drinking in television and movies—are less likely to drink, do drugs or engage in sex than Gen-Xers.

They are more likely to volunteer and have better relationships with parents and adults than any other generation in recent memory.

At the same time, they feel great pressure from parents and teachers to do well in school. And this pressure will only intensify.

The mini-millennials will be the first crop of students to feel the full effect of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“A lot of the educational reforms will bear fruit,” Howe said. “There will be hugely increased academic requirements.

“These kids will encounter all that. This steady ratcheting up of standards is going to really hit these kids. All of this stuff is all just beginning—it will all be in place and working.”

Panther Valley kindergarten teacher Jill Niehoff said the impact is already being felt.

Three years ago her pupils mostly practiced writing skills by printing their first and last names. Now, she said, they are printing sentences and paragraphs.

Next school year her young charges will start a program called Kid Writing, which will “teach them to become more independent in their writing,” Niehoff said.

Sara Rimm-Kaufman, assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia, said the change is evident.

“Academics are going to be more intense,” Rimm-Kaufman said. “Kindergarten now is a lot more challenging—more like first grade was 10 years ago.”

In Palmerton, Derbe’s mom, Julie, wants to keep a healthy balance in her son’s life, even if that means resisting the pressure to start academics early.

Derbe goes to three days of preschool, and Julie Stroup’s mother, who cares for him while she and her husband work, occasionally goes over the alphabet with him.

“He’s still a kid,” Julie Stroup said. “Should he be hunkering down and studying? No. He should be out playing.”

Besides feeling pressure in school, mini-millennials will probably be just as busy if not busier than their older siblings.

“The kids who are 5-25 have grown up with parents who are very involved in their lives,” said Claire Raines, an expert on generations at work. “They are busier than any kids we’ve seen before. They lead highly structured lives.

“I think kids today don’t do the “let’s go play on the vacant lot’ anymore. There are not many vacant lots left, and the ones that are aren’t safe.”

Raines, author of books including “Beyond Generation X: A Practical Guide for Managers,” has observed that “most high school kids carry Day-Timers, and more elementary kids are, too.”

All that structure might backfire, Strauss said, pointing out the tendency for each generation to rejects its parents’ values, often returning to those of a previous generation.

“There may be a quest to break free,” he said. “They will feel a little crunched down by standards [such as No Child Left Behind] and will begin to undermine them.

“You could say this could be the next generation of Joan Baezes and Bob Dylans.”

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