- Here's a little test. Which of the following are true?
- Today's kids and teens are more violent than their parents'
generation. Teenagers abuse alcohol and drugs more often than adults, and
more often than ever before. Teen pregnancy is skyrocketing. Kids' test
scores are lower than their parents' were, and getting lower.
- If you said yes to any of these, you may have been affected
by what scholar and writer Mike A. Males terms a "media blitz on teens"
driven by sensational anecdotes and manipulated statistics.
- In fact, none of the statements is true, as Males' 1999
book, Framing Youth: Ten Myths About the Next Generation, reveals. The
percentage of teens committing serious crimes has actually dropped over
the past twenty years. Today's teens are far less likely to use drugs or
to die of drug-related causes than are people 30 years and older, and,
yes, less likely to have kids out of wedlock. But, as Males points out,
they are far more likely to be associated with-and often blamed for-these
social problems in newspapers, magazines and the evening news.
- In eleven detailed and thought-provoking chapters, Males
examines the same studies and statistics that daytime talk show experts
and New York Times reporters use to back claims that U.S. teens (and adults)
are overwhelmingly and increasingly in trouble because of U.S. teens.
- Turns out, Males argues, that when it comes to the younger
generation, we've got a lot to be proud of. Today's teens actually do a
lot of good. They are more engaged in volunteering, active in their community,
and-it might seem remarkable considering the world we adults have created-are
generally and increasingly law-abiding.
- Which is not to say that teens don't need our help. What
they don't need, according to Males, is tougher punishment, tighter policing
or moral realignment. In addition to debunking common myths, Framing Youth
explores the real problems facing teens, who are more likely than adults
to live in poverty and many of whom have limited access to adequate education
and technology. Males sets about helping us "get real" so we
can get involved in a meaningful way.
- Killer Kids and Schoolroom Slaughter
- In the book's introduction, "Myth: Todays Youth
Are America's Worst Generation Ever,"Males writes: "Today we
routinely hear cliched lies such as the following: yesterday's kids ran
in the halls and shoplifted; today's kids gun and slaughter. The press
headlines recent school shootings in Pearl, West Paduch, Jonesboro, Edinboro,
Springfield, which killed a total of 11 youths over an eight-month period.
None of the anguished commentary on these school tragedies mentioned that
is the average number of children murdered by their parents in two days
of domestic violence in the United States."
- National crime statistics show that teen crime rates
are actually dropping, and, media assertions notwithstanding, schools are
still the safest place for kids and teens to be. Safer, even, than their
- Violent crime has indeed risen in the U.S. since the
Fabled 50s, Males agrees, but not because of teens. The data reveal even
more surprising information: serious crime trends among white and nonwhite
teens have been declining for 20 years, but major crimes among white adults
have been "surging steadily upward." White adults over 30 in
fact show steeper increases in crime rates than any other age or ethnic
group in the country-behold the real culprits behind our recent "crime
wave." But you rarely read that in your local paper.
- Running "Mild in the Streets"
- When it comes to drugs, Males might say that what we
have is a failure to communicate-the truth, that is. There's plenty of
dialogue and coverage of the issue, but too much of it is just plain wrong.
- "Baby boom youths suffered death rates from drugs
such as heroin and barbituates double to triple that of today's youth,"
Males writes. And they continue to use, abuse and die from drugs and alcohol
at much higher rates than the so-called reckless teen "wastoids."
Adolescent health and behavior are improving, not declining, and Males
argues that if there's a new trend, it's a tendency to be surprisingly
"mild in the streets."
- So why do the myths of teens as drugged-out, reckless
superpredators persist in the media? According to Males, it's partly disbelief.
"That America's most affluent, aging population should show the largest
rise in serious crime [and drug abuse] fits no known theory of criminology,
" Males writes. Instead of addressing the complex and nuanced issues
that do plague our nation's youth, adults have found it easier-for myriad
reasons Males explores-to turn an often subtle "racism and fear of
youth" into an assertion that teens are plaguing us. That teens of
all races and backgrounds have come to symbolize the American nightmare
of crime, alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity.
- Certainly, today's teens face significant obstacles and
risks. But most stem from adults, not peers-and from societal problems
like oppression and poverty. Rising crime, violence, and drug abuse do
impact our youth, and therefore deserve attention-but they also deserve
perspective. When we term populations "at-risk," Males urges,
let's consider whom we characterize this way, and why.
- Telling it Like it Ain't
- Politically, Males claims allegiance with neither conservatives
nor liberals. He systematically outlines arguments and assumptions offered
by those in on the right, on the left and even in the middle, and offers
enough data and context to cast a reasonable doubt on many "facts"
about our country and our kids, truths we have long held self-evident.
And he is unafraid to tackle thorny issues of race and economics that shape
so much of the media coverage-and indeed, the lives-of today's kids and
teens. Males calls for a more honest, direct discourse on the impacts of
race, racism and economic stability.
- Almost as if he were himself a kid, Males seems to ask,
"Why?" over and over until he gets to the bottom of the rhetoric
and gets to the raw data underlining the almost-daily media messages about
our "killer kids" and youth in crisis. The result is a book that's
highly readable, substantial and never too technical. Males' steady, biting
and witty prose engages and entertains as it instructs. It's encouraging,
too. He succeeds in giving readers the tools to look critically at stories
offering isolated episodes as the next "Alarming New Teen Trend"
and put them in perspective.
- Consistently interesting, Framing Youth can be read from
beginning to end, or flipped open and read a section at a time. A word
of caution: don't pick up the book when you have something important to
do. It's easy to read, but not so easy to put down.
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