A walk through recent stories about America's youths provides an intriguing composite:
*More young people, including some still in their teens, are getting involved in public service; many are running for political office (see story on page 1).
*Many others, however, show little inclination to follow world and national news. Some are just too wrapped up in their personal lives. Others don't like the way TV hypes stories.
*Thousands are opting out of the kind of sweaty or monotonous summer jobs that gave their parents a first taste of "real life." Travel or summer study seem more in vogue.
*A lot of kids are so heavily scheduled with sports and other activities their parents worry that family cohesion is suffering.
*And, yes, concern continues to mount that frequent exposure to violent movies, song lyrics, and video games, to say nothing of alcohol and drugs, is warping youthful thinking - as possibly shown, most recently, by rampaging young men harassing women in New York's Central Park.
If there's any thread here, it may be that young people have rarely had more options, or higher aspirations, and at the same time they've never had a greater need for supportive family ties and moral guidelines.
Those observations are likely to apply equally to suburban kids, urban kids, or rural kids - despite their sharply different backgrounds and surroundings.
More than anything else, helping the next generation mature into constructive citizens is a matter of striking a balance. Some communities are taking extraordinary steps. Parents in the small town of Wayzata, Minn., have organized to ask coaches, arts instructors, and others to cut back on practices and rehearsals. They hope to start a national movement to win back family time.
That may be a useful step. But if there's one thing true about all kids and families, it's that no two are exactly alike. Heavy scheduling sits just fine with some kids. They'd rather be constantly busy (sorry, mom and dad). Despite the trend, lots of kids will still draw life lessons, as well as a paycheck, this summer from waitering, lifeguarding, or even being a farm hand. Lots will realize the news holds significance for their lives and their future. And yes, some will recognize they have better things to do than hang out with video games.
The composite we get is never the whole picture. But it's important to get the widest angle possible on today's youth. Alienation and moral drift are problems that demand attention. But there are also plenty of accomplishments by the coming generation that demand recognition.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society