Final Carnegie Report Urges Help for Youth to Hurdle Risks

Bill Howard
November 1, 1995

Beset by pressures to smoke, drink, use drugs and have sex, today's young adolescents are in greater need than ever of help from their families and communities to make it safely to adulthood.

This is the chief finding — more of a plea really, for society to pay attention to vulnerable youths aged 10 to 14 — in the windup report of a nine-year study by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development chaired by Dr. David Hamburg.

"Barely out of childhood, young people ages ten to fourteen are experiencing more freedom, autonomy, and choice than ever at a time when they still need special nurturing, protection and guidance," says the report, Great Transitions: Preparing Adolescents for a New Century.

“Without the sustained involvement of parents and other adults in safeguarding their welfare, young adolescents are at risk of harming themselves and others." This risk extends to at least half of the 19 million youths in this age group, the report says.

In the report and at a press conference releasing it, Dr. Hamburg said the institutions having the most impact on youths in addition to family and schools were after-school, youth-serving and health-care organizations plus the media. Declaring these institutions have "fallen behind in their vital functions," council members urged the five to "adapt to the impact of a hyper-modern, high-tech, pluralistic society in ways that meet the essential requirements for healthy adolescent development."

Communities should start addressing problems of the young by forming neighborhood councils composed of these institutions, Hamburg said. The report ignores the effect on young adolescents of 188 federal youth programs surveyed last January by Andy Hahn of Brandeis University's Center for Human Resources, Hahn's report, America's Middle Child: Making Age Count in Development of National Youth Policy, found only two of the 188 focused explicitly on early adolescents and that older youth received $4 for every $1 spent — "or even potentially spent" — on the lO-to-14 age group.

Even with the lumping of youth programs into block grants, Hahn suggested federal policies should be refocused to address “gaps” in health and otter services to help the younger age group.

The Council's swansong report thus is more of a reprise of its earlier studies: A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Non-school Hours, which helped provide the foundation for Kansas Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum's pending Youth Development block grant; Fateful Choices: Healthy Youth for the 2lst Century, and Turning Points: Preparing youth for the 2lst Century. The latter study argued for school reforms and had President Clinton as a participant when he was governor of Arkansas.

When former FCC Commissioner Newton N. Minow, coiner of the “TV wasteland” expression and chairman of the Carnegie Corporation, spoke, his criticism of the media was relatively mild. At a follow-up meeting, Minow's soft pedaling drew the ire of former Gov. Michael Dukakis who blasted TV news coverage of teenagers.

Conceding the "pervasive" and negative powers of the media, and the vast amount of time young people spend on television, Great Transitions argues that even in their present content, the media still have potential to positively affect young lives. Television, video cassettes, music videos and computers can "promote compassionate...nonviolent problem solving" and provide "models of healthy human development."

Further, the report advocates enhancing media literacy among the young. Knowledge of how commercial messages are shaped and used to manipulate audiences "may help protect young adolescents against strong advertising pressures to smoke, drink, have sex or eat unhealthy foods." Schools and parents should give such literacy training which long has been a feature of early education in Sweden and other countries.

Copies of the new and older reports, plus numerous working papers, are available from: Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, P.O. Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604. (202) 429-7979.

Howard, Bill. "Final Carnegie Report Urges Help for Youth to Hurdle Risks." Youth Today, November/December 1995, p. 20-21.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.