May 3, 2000: Column on the White House Conference on Teenagers



May 3, 2000

Despite declarations of independence and "KEEP OUT" signs hung on closed bedroom doors, America's teenagers need -- and want -- guidance and support from their parents.

This information comes from a new poll commissioned by the YMCA, and released this morning at the first-ever White House Conference on Teenagers. And the news may come as a surprise to many parents. After all, isn't this the age when our children would rather spend two hours talking on the phone to a friend than 10 minutes in a conversation with Mom or Dad?

Yet, according to the poll, more than three out of four teenagers say they still turn to their parents in times of trouble. In fact, while parents list the threat of drugs and alcohol as their chief worries, teenagers themselves list education and "not having enough time" with their parents as their top concerns. Today's conference brought together parents, teens, policymakers and other experts to discuss the importance of the teenage years in the social and intellectual development of children. Like the 1997 White House Conference on Early Learning and Childhood Development, today's gathering underscored some of the common misconceptions that parents have, and offered strategies for raising responsible and resourceful children. It has been my good fortune, over the the last 30 years, to talk to thousands of teens in hundreds of settings. Despite negative messages too often sent by the media, America's teens are full of promise and potential. But ask them, and they will tell you that what should be the best years of their lives are too often filled with stress, alienation and confusion. What teens need -- a theme returned to by each speaker today -- is a connection. They need a relationship with an adult who cares about them. In the words of psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, "Somebody's got to be crazy about that kid, and vice versa!"

Dr. Robert Blum, one of the country's leading experts on adolescent health, assured us that "families matter." His research shows that, when families ar
connected, sexual activity is delayed, and there is less tobacco and alcohol use, less emotional distress and less violence. "The key," he says, "is giving young people the consistent message that they matter."

But how do parents send that message? One way, espoused by many of today's speakers, is by having dinner -- or lunch, or breakfast -- together. One of the biggest casualties of modern life is family time -- that time when parents and children can check out of their busy schedules, and check in with each other. Before our daughter left for college, my husband and I made it a priority to share at least one meal with her every day. It wasn't always easy, but we made the effort, and that half-hour in the small kitchen of our private quarters was my favorite part of the day.

By making the time to be together, Bill and I sent our daughter a simple message -- one that she carried with her when she went 3,000 miles away to college: Whenever she needs to talk, to ask advice, or just say hello, we will always be available and eager to listen.

One of the initiatives that I was proud to announce this morning is a new public awareness campaign designed to challenge parents to make more time for their teens, and encourage businesses to offer more flexible work schedules and policies for parents. The President, who announced that he will sign an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination against parents in the federal workforce, challenged all employers: "Don't put up glass ceilings for parents. A parent's job is tough enough." Ben Casey of the Dallas YMCA described the role that community organizations can play. In Dallas, the Y has initiated a partnership with a dot-com grocery store, a dry cleaner and a pharmacy. When parents arrive to pick up their children at the Y, they can also pick up their groceries, their cleaning and their pharmacy items. In return for this free service, each family must agree to go home, turn off the TV, and have dinner together. This is just the kind of support busy parents – and their children -- need. Hundreds of programs like this are working all over the country, but getting the word out isn't always easy. For that reason, I was pleased to announce that a new White House task force will create a web site to link parents to successful programs just like this one. A companion site will offer age-appropriate resources for their children.

Laura Sessions Stepp, author of "Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence," summed up the three Rs that teens need to reach their full promise and potential: respect, responsibility and close relationships. It is time for all of us -- not just parents -- to do a better job of telling teens that we value them, we love them, we care about them, and we want to be involved in their lives.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

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