Today's White House Conference on Teenagers has been criticized as a politically motivated event, taking advantage of the recent anniversary of last year's violence at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Some suspect the conference is largely intended to showcase the concerns and ideas of Hillary Clinton, the first lady, who is now running for the US Senate in New York.
But let's step back from this skepticism that too easily envelops what transpires in Washington. A conference on the problems facing today's teenagers is unquestionably timely, and not only because of the Columbine anniversary.
This is a difficult time for teenagers, and their parents. The world's social, educational, and economic underpinnings are rapidly transforming - even as teens embark on the sometimes harrowing transition to adulthood.
Terrible events like Columbine both reflect young people's inner uncertainties and add to them. School security has shot to a top priority in the past year. New programs, many of them enlightened and successful, have sprung up around the country (see story page 1). Efforts to create more caring codes of conduct within schools, to help troubled students recognize their worth, and to work more closely with willing parents, deserve high marks. They take school safety a needed step beyond metal detectors and police in the halls.
The White House conference will highlight such efforts. It will undoubtedly also note the huge diversity of experience among American teens - as well as their common needs.
Kids from blighted urban areas, where family structures are battered by poverty and substance abuse, present unique issues. For them, violence can be a daily occurrence.
Well-off kids from the suburbs have vastly different daily experiences. Yet violence has intruded in their lives, too.
The White House gathering - and the wider dialogue it ought to stimulate - should focus on the essentially moral and spiritual needs shared by teens of all backgrounds. Chief among these needs is the presence of caring adults who can guide and nurture. Parents have primary responsibility, but teachers, counselors, and mentors can be crucial.
All Americans, from the first family down, have an interest in helping teens find stability and purpose.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society