Good News? Who Needs It?

Mike Males
November 1, 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 of them.

They’re 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 and community volunteerism all up up up. And an especially awesome 10-to-14-year-old crop boasts 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, because white adults are going to hell. In the last two decades 30-to-60-year-old Anglos 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: 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, ever-bloodier movies, ultragraphic websites and gangsta rap. White youth subcultures have erupted: raves, ‘zines, posses, Net groups, Goths, you name it.

Then hooray for peers and pop culture. During the 1990s every ill among white kids plunged: murder arrests, rape, suicide, firearms deaths, and pregnancy all fell 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 this as terrible news. They incessantly lament that “today’s suburban kids suffer crises just like inner-city kids.” (Sure, like murder and motherhood rates 90 percent lower). The only time programs admit anything good about kids is when angling to grab credit.

Understandably so. We know winning attention and bucks for 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 afterschool crime” or “monitoring high-risk youth.”

Our endless negativism reinforces today’s 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.

Males, Mike. "Good News? Who Needs It?." Youth Today, November 1999, p. 54.

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