Good News? Who Needs It?
Mike Males
c Youth Today, November 1999

It's been a depressing decade of mass demonization of teenagers -- superpredators, school gunners, welfare moms, infestations of AIDS, dope, suicide, crime, bad test scores, worse values, ever-new apocalypses. Yet youth advocates can revel in a huge success story:

California white (Anglo) youths age 10-17, all 1.5 million.

Doing great. Murder arrest rates down 40 percent from 1975 to 1998, to levels near Canada's. Suicide at its lowest point since 1965. Violent deaths down an astounding 46 percent in the last dozen years, when teenhood was supposedly becoming so toxic. Birth rates down 25 percent since 1980. School attendance, test scores, college enrollment, employment, community volunteerism, all up up up. And an especially awesome 10-14 year-old crop, boasting crime, drug, and other "risk" behaviors at all-time lows.

No shenanigans -- these are steady, long-term trends involving population-adjusted rates and consistent numbers from standard California crime, health, and demographic reports. Never have white kids been healthier or safer.

Why? Well, experts say parents don't matter. Good thing, since white adults are going to hell. In the last two decades, Anglo grownups ages 30-60 suffered a 150 percent leap in violent crime, a quadrupling in drug deaths, and epidemic family breakup. California's fastest growing criminal and prison population is whites over age 30: a staggering 100,000 arrested for felonies in 1998, triple the rate of 1975.

I don't know what your program sees, but the ones I worked in reflected what statistics show: far more youths suffer parents with booze, drug, and violence problems than the other way around. Teens are more responsible today because, in more families, they have to be the grownups. Middle/upper-class kids (mostly white) have more resources than poorer kids do, but when you cut past the anecdotal bombast and appraise the entire younger generation, California's trends for both high- and low-income youth are remarkably positive.

Authorities declare peers and pop culture are youths' biggest influences now. White teens are the arch-consumers of the 1990s violent video games like Mortal Kombat, Doom, and Quake, ever-bloodier movies, ultra-graphic Websites, and gangsta rap. White-youth subcultures have erupted: raves, 'zines, posses, Net groups, Goths, you name it.

Hooray for peers and pop culture, then. During the 1990s, every ill among white kids plunged: murder arrest, rape, suicide, firearms death, and pregnancy all fell by 30-50 percent. In 1998, 2,100 Californians were arrested for murder, including 500 whites. Only 34 were white youths. Fifteen hundred white Californians died from drugs; just 11 were under age 18.

California service providers must regard all this as terrible news. They incessantly lament that "today's suburban kids suffer crises just like inner-city kids" (yeah, like murder and motherhood rates 90 percent lower). The only time programs admit anything good about kids is when angling to grab credit.

And understandably so. We know winning attention and bucks for vital programs in this anti-youth era requires scaring funders with teen-terror tales. California's youth suicide rate has fallen for 30 years? Bummer! Get the media and "experts" to hype teens as crazier (like Time magazine's and the Los Angeles Times' inflammatory 1997 youth suicide splashes). The long-term plummet in teenage drug abuse and crime? Thank goodness the press craves "alarming" anecdotes (incessant "teen-heroin" scares) and loathes calming facts (teen drug deaths dropped 80 percent in the last quarter century).

Heaven forbid that wealthy America fund youth programs because kids are valued citizens meriting investment. We have to sell services as "preventing after-school crime" or "monitoring high-risk youth."

Understandable or not, our endless negativism reinforces today's extraordinary hostility against young people, helping politicians sow fear and repression. So it's heartening that growing numbers of programs are incorporating the unexpected good news into agendas that give young people the affirmation they deserve.

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