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Let’s skip Z and just call them Generation A

     They’re calling them Generation Z. But we really should call them Generation A. Think about it. Children born between 1995 to present have been assessed, diagnosed, labeled, and are even self-identifying with all kinds of ailments that start with the letter “A.” It’s time to ditch the Z and jump back to the beginning of the alphabet.
     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 11% of our 74.2 million U.S. children are labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Nearly 6% of our kids have one sort of food allergy or another, not to mention that many of those allergies can and have resulted in anaphylaxis. 9% of children of all ages struggle to breath and use inhalers to manage their asthma. 25% of children ages 13 to 18 have a lifetime prevalence of anxiety with almost 6% of those teens suffering from severe anxiety disorder. 2.7% of our 13 to 17 year olds have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and/or binge eating disorder. In 2011 (four years ago), the National Center for Health Statistics found that 11% of our population takes an antidepressant medication on a daily basis. This data was collected between 2005 - 2008 and included children as young as 12 years old.
     Who even wants to talk about the fact that in 1993 only (only!) 201,000 prescriptions were written for antipsychotic medications for children under the age of 21 years of age. Within nine years the amount antipsychotic prescriptions for kids under 21 increased by nearly 84% with a whopping 1.2 million prescriptions were written in 2002 alone.
     Why is it that the approved age for using amphetamines such as Adderall begin at three years old?
ASD, ADHD, allergies, anxiety, and anorexia are just the tip of this A shaped iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned the massive amounts of children who struggle with addiction of one form or another, over-achievingabuse, anger management, attachment and adjustment disorders, and autoimmune related illnesses.
     What’s going on here? Why are all of these children being identified and treated for physical and mental health issues that were rarely diagnosed in children 20 - 30 years ago? The answer is we really don’t know why. Medical experts and researchers continuing to argue about causation. The best we can get right now is correlation and we must remember one of our fundamental introduction to statistics’ lesson: correlation does not equal causation. Perhaps these issues have always existed, we just didn’t have the awareness of them, or the assessment and intervention tools and treatments that we do now. Perhaps the way we have treated our environment over the past 100 years has something to do with all of this. What about the pervasive use of technology in our daily lives? What is that doing to our little developing brains?
     Perhaps we have overprotective parents and good-intentioned school teachers who want to help children not only survive in a continually standardizing school system? Maybe we should think about who is receiving the benefits of all of these diagnosis. Is it the children who are being helped? Is it the parents who feel relief that someone is helping their children? Is it the teachers who are relieved when a child is taken out of their classroom and given more direct attention through special education services? Is it the special education teachers who see continued growth in their professional field?
     Should we blame the fat and constantly striving pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson with its 2014 $16.3 billion in profits, $131 billion in assets, and $276 billion in market value? Pfizer took second place while Novartis earned a very respectable bronze medal for third place.
     What about all of the advocacy groups and lobbyists who work tirelessly to assist children and their families to receive the best services and treatments available? What are they getting out of the labels we put on our children? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was no need for any of this? What if a kid was just a kid?
     Identifying causation is not the my purpose. The purpose of all this data is to point out the trend that our current population of children have changed the ways our family operates, who works, who needs to stay home and run these children to constant medical appointments. Schools were created to shape and educate our children, but it appears that their need for accommodation are now shaping our school systems. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. More children today are excelling with opportunities given to them through assessments and treatments than ever before. We will have one of these mostly highly skilled work forces in U.S. history during a time when employee shortages are on the horizon given the massive amounts of over-delayed and inevitable baby boomer retirements.
     The question is, are U.S. employers willing to make the needed accommodations to this generation of children who have been accommodated throughout their entire school careers so that they can continue to grow, develop, and contribute for themselves and the good of the organizations they serve? Survey says….nope, not ready. How can employers prepare for this highly skilled, highly diverse, and very highly needy generation as both employees and consumers?
Megan Meuli, M.A. and Paulette Henderson are the authors of Generation Accommodation: From Generation Me to We, Gen A Is On Its Way, Are We Ready? The book will be available for purchase in early 2016.


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