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“Today’s kids watch ‘24’ and ‘Law & Order,’ which have multiple plot lines. We watched ‘The Flintstones’ — one level of meaning. They watch ‘The Simpsons’ — multiple levels of meaning. We used to play Monopoly. … They play SimCity in real time, trying to manage thousands of variables to keep the city moving.”

I asked Mr. Bauerlein and Mr. Howe what parents, mentors, teachers and other caring adults can do to influence a Millennial mind. Mr. Howe’s advice was to “tell them there’s a very important role in America for their generation,” especially in the area of rebuilding social consensus, community and institutions. Mr. Bauerlein suggested instituting a “reading hour” in the home where they “log off, disconnect.”

“Parents have to model this behavior as well,” the professor added. They “have to show that reading a book is part of being an adult.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@