Recent school-yard shootings by children and teenagers have contributed to the hand-wringing adults continually do over the state of teens' morals and behavior. Psychologists and behavioral scientists are saying teenagers today are feeling isolated and unloved and are taking out their feelings violently on the people around them.
Educators and some clergy are worried that children don't know how to work, that they have little sense of responsibility and nonexistent value systems. Many adults believe teenage drug use is out of control.I read somewhere that Socrates worried about the teenagers of his time in much the same terms.
I believe just the opposite is true of most teenagers today. Gang members who terrorize neighborhoods and individual youngsters who go berserk and start shooting are in the news because they are exceptions to the rule. The rule says teens are responsible, caring, knowlegeable, confident, talented and, of course, idealistic.
I feel sure the world will be in much better hands when the teenagers and twentysomethings of today take over. They know far more than their parents did at their age - more about how the world works, how to get things done, how to communicate and why such knowledge is vital.
For the past nine months or so, I've worked with a dynamic group of teenagers who have provided ideas and written articles for the new Deseret News Pulse page. When I announced my intention to publish the teen section twice a month, the idea wasn't popular.
"You think you can get kids to meet deadlines?" "What kinds of things will they want to write about - how to get a date and what to do if the guy kisses you?" "You'll spend all your time editing their stuff."
Those kinds of responses just made me more determined to make it work. And it has worked wonderfully. Pulse is a work in progress, and there are improvements to be made, but most of the problems we experienced were because of the adults' inadequacies, not because of any deficiency among the kids.
And what did they want to write about? The arts. The popularity of natural herbs in food. Violence in schools. Whatever happened to chivalry. Teen service projects. The downside of sports.
Admittedly, these kids are not "average," but I believe they reflect the good things that are rampant among their peers, no matter where they rank academically.
These kids have opinions about everything, and they can back up what they believe with facts. They don't tolerate intolerance. They were careful not to write anything that would hurt other teens who might think differently or come from different backgrounds; they wanted to share the limelight.
And most of them actually met deadline most of the time.
Our Pulse writers are not exceptional. They are more the rule.
The characteristic I find most notable among today's youth is their sincere empathy for their fellowmen. They donate thousands of hours to myriad projects to help people who need it. Teenagers are involved in church and community groups that provide service to the homeless, elderly and physically challenged.
Consider the Bennion Center at the University of Utah, Christian and Jewish service groups, high-school tutors who give personally to help youngsters, and college-age volunteers who man soup kitchens and help doctors and dentists who provide service to the homeless.
At Christmastime, schools are at the forefront in "adopting" children and families who need help and donating time and money to spread a little cheer.
Utah can point to thousands of young men and women who postpone college and careers to donate two years to their church and at the same time provide service around the world.
Nationally, statistics debunk the myths that youths are more violent. Since 1995, arrest rates for violent crimes have declined for both teenagers and adults.
The United States Department of Justice reports that fewer than one-half of 1 percent of juveniles in the United States are arrested for a violent offense every year. And arrest statistics overstate teenage crime.
The FBI, for example, reported that in 1996, youths accounted for 15 percent of murder arrests, but only 8 percent of actual murders were attributed to juveniles.
The reality is that adults commit 11 of 12 homicides, including three-fourths of the murders of children and teenagers, statistics that are usually ignored in the furor over "killer kids."
The National Center for Education Statistics' 1997 Digest reported record levels of public school enrollment, fewer school days lost to injury or disease and higher student reading, math and science test scores today than in the '70s and '80s.
One statistic sums up the generational change in drug use: From 1970 to 1996, drug death rates fell 66 percent among teenagers but rose 113 percent among their aging baby-boom parents, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It is drug abuse among parents, not teenagers, that is a crisis today.
Despite the facts, the 1997 Public Agenda survey found two thirds of American adults label youths "rude," "irresponsible" and "wild," while only 37 percent of adults believe that when the current group of children grow up, they will make the United States a better place.
Teenagers don't deserve the bad rap they often get. It seems adults erroneously see our own deficiencies reflected in kids, who in fact are operating on a higher standard.
I'm confident these kids will run the world very well, despite the mess we're handing them.