The Clinton administration held the first-ever White House Conference on Teenagers last month and put the accent on the positive - forging strategies for parents and youth-serving agencies to raise responsible youngsters.
The conference was primarily designed to examine ways for parents, schools, community-based leaders and businesses to help foster the development of children during their teenage years.
Several new initiatives were announced, including new websites for teens and for teens' parents, a coalition aimed at distributing information about preventing high-risk teen behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, and a publication to help teens find people to talk with about personal issues.
The event drew, among others, Ken R. Canfield, president, of the National Center for Fathering; Peter Benson, president of the Search Institute; Justin Newland, member of the National Campaign Against Youth Violence; Kenneth L. Gladish, chief executive officer of the YMCA of the USA; Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of YouthBuild USA; Andrew Shue, co-founder and chairman of Do Something, Sarah S. Brown, director of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and Sister Mary Rose McGeady, president of Covenant House.
Those on hand from locally based youth-serving organizations included Philip Coltoff, executive director of the Children's Aid Society in New York, Elinor Goldberg, executive director of the Maine Children's Alliance, and J. Ben Casey, chief executive officer of the Dallas YMCA.
"I thought it was a remarkable assemblage of who's who in the youth development field," said Samuel Halperin, senior fellow at the American Youth Policy Forum. "There were a lot of sage comments. However, I wish that something would have been mentioned about federal involvement in minimum wage and after-school programs for youth. There wasn't enough time. It wasn't a one-day conference - it was a five-hour conference."
First Lady Hillary Clinton opened the session, saying, "If you ask teens and listen to teens, they will tell you that growing up today is more difficult than before."
President Clinton said the United States does not provide enough family support for youth. In order to kindle the spark in every child, he said, Americans need to seek a balanced view of what teenage life is like.
In announcing a task force on "Navigating the New Media Age," the First Lady unveiled a public-private effort to establish an Internet site to provide a one-stop information location for parents of teenagers. "Parenting Resources in the 21st Century," at www.parentingresources.ncjrs.org (run by government contractor Aspen Systems), should be running in six months, she said.
Task force members include the Center for Media Education, the American Psychological Association, America's Promise, the Children's Defense Fund, the National Network for Youth, United Way of America and GetNetWise.
Underscoring the precariousness of any public discussion of youth focused on the positive, the White House unveiled a coalition of prevention campaigns that have joined forces with the federal government to offer parental tips on steering youths away from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex and violence.
The president announced a new website for teenagers, www.americasteens.gov, that will be a gateway to federal and other publicly supported websites for teens. It will also provide information for doing homework, pursuing a hobby or charting a career. In addition, Clinton directed all federal agencies to increase educational material for youth on their individual websites. The same directive would assure that all federally supported websites for youth comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and other relevant federal regulations.
Also at the conference, the YMCA of the USA released a survey showing wide gaps in how teens and parents view a variety of issues, including values and alcohol use. (See "Stats Watch," page 8.)
In connection with the conference, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to release a guide that will help teenagers identify people with whom they can talk about personal issues. The guide will be distributed by community-based organizations and through the National Clearinghouse for Family and Youth (www.ncfy.com).
Clinton released a new report from the President's Council of Economic Advisers showing that teenagers who excel in school and avoid risk behavior are more likely to have parents who are involved in their lives. The report also shows that teenage smoking and poor eating habits are rising, and teen suicide and homicide rates are rising in states where teens have greater access to firearms.
On the day of the conference, the president signed an executive order barring discrimination against parents in the federal workplace. It prohibits discrimination against parents in recruitment, referral, hiring, promotions, discharge and training.
In what is billed as a follow-up to the conference, the Corporation for National Service and the Points of Light Foundation, along with about 23 other groups, will host a National Youth Summit on June 22-25 in Orlando, Fla. The 1,000 teens and adults scheduled to attend will develop plans for young people to play a role in their communities.
Assessing the conference, Shepherd Smith, president of the conservative-aligned National Institute for Youth Development, said, "To me it was a turn in the right direction, from a government perspective. The emphasis on parents is something we need wholeheartedly."
- Hollie I.West