THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY AT THE WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON TEENAGERS: RAISING RESPONSIBLE AND RESOURCEFUL YOUTH The East Room
10:45 A.M. EDT
MRS. CLINTON: Good morning, and please be seated, and welcome to the White House. We have been looking forward to this conference for nearly a year now as we have talked with and explored all the ways that we can raise resourceful and responsible young people. And many people have asked me why a conference on teenagers. Why make teenagers the focus of a fully day's discussion at the White House.
Well, I think that as we just saw in the video -- and I want to thank and applaud the families that participated in that video -- many of us are concerned about what we can do as parents and as citizens, as employers or educators, as public officials or community leaders, to give more support to teenagers and their families.
The President and I speak, of course, with great authority -- (laughter) -- having just graduated from being the parents of a teenager to being the parents of a 20-year-old and having survived it. But, believe me, this conference is more than just a trip down memory lane or an exercise in nostalgia for us. We believe strongly that our young people deserve our very best efforts.
I want to thank many of the people who are here today who have been part of putting this conference together, but more than that, for the work that they have done over so many decades. First, let me thank David and Betty Hamburg who are here. (Applause.) David and Betty, in many ways, inspired this conference.
I began working with them more than 20 years ago now, and I can think of no people who are more dedicated to helping all young people, whether they're in the forgotten or not forgotten half, whether they are going through great transitions or turning points in their lives. And I think many of us in this room owe both David and Betty a great deal of gratitude. I would like to ask them to stand so we could thank them both. (Applause.)
Also with us today is Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Secretary Donna Shalala, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary Alexis Herman, National Service Corps CEO Harris Wofford, the Director of Personnel Management Janice LaChance, the Deputy Drug Czar Vereen, Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.T. Grant Foundation and the YMCA of the USA are all sponsors and supporters of this conference.
Now, all of us are here because we believe there is no group of Americans more full of promise or potential. But we also believe there is no group of Americans more in need of the support, guidance and committed efforts of all of us than today's teenagers.
Ask any teen -- and I do -- I've been privileged to speak to so many in sort of personal and informal ways and in more formal settings. Just last week at a high school town hall in Watkins Glen, New York, where the teens lined up and asked all kinds of questions. If you ask teens and you listen to teens, you can hear, directly and indirectly, their voices telling us that growing up today feels tougher than ever before. I happen to think that's right. I think it's harder being a teen today than it was, certainly, when I was one so many years ago.
But I also think that the wonder and hope and exciting choices that teenagers face in their lives are too often becoming times of great stress, alienation, and confusion. And that, too, has always been part of the teen experience, but the environment and context in which that occurs is more dangerous than ever before.
And if it's tough to be a teenager today, it's probably even tougher to be a parent. More and more parents are working outside our homes; they're struggling to do right by their families and their jobs. And I have met so many mothers and fathers who tell me that they just feel inadequate and anxious about navigating those teenage years -- more so than they certainly felt when their kids were younger.
We're all worried about the choices our teenagers make, about how the best-laid plans for a bright future can disintegrate with a single bad decision to drink, to try drugs, to drive too fast, to trust the wrong person. Parents are worried about the movies their children are seeing, the web sites they're visiting, the music they're listening to. And there's a lot of worry that all those heart-to-heart talks and those efforts to communicate, which are sometimes so awkward and difficult, about values and good behavior are getting drowned out by a popular culture filled with gratuitous sex and violence.
In our two panels this morning, and in the breakout sessions this afternoon, we will tackle the challenges facing today's teenagers and their parents. But it won't just be a session for everyone to share their worries. More importantly, we're going to be highlighting some of the latest research about teen years and the innovative ways that Americans can work together to ensure that every teenager has a safe passage to adulthood.
Three years ago, in this room, we held the first White House Conference on Early Learning and Childhood Development. We sought to raise awareness about the critical growth that takes place in the brain during the first three years of life, and to explore the implications of this knowledge on parenting, education and child care. In many ways, that conference and today's conference can be viewed as bookends, because now we're beginning to learn that the brain goes through yet another, and equally critical, growth spurt during the early teenage years. Though the research is still preliminary, scientists now believe that this is the time when all the hard-wiring of the brain takes place, when a teenager's intellectual, emotional and physical capacities are developed for a lifetime.
Now, I remember the very wise advice I got from a friend of mine, when my daughter was very small and she was raising three teenagers. And she said, you know, the two times in a child's life that seem most similar to me are those toddler years and the teenage years. It's when we need to give so much more attention to our children. And now, we didn't know, back when I heard this advice about 19 or so years ago, that there would be brain research to support that anecdotal experience that parents had. But I remembered that so often during the times when our own daughter was growing up -- that even if your teenager or your preteen doesn't want you following her or him around, in many ways -- think of that toddler metaphor -- they need you around. And it's hard for a lot of parents to figure out exactly how to do that.
This research has, therefore, important implications for parents, because teenagers need the guidance and support of their parents more than ever. It is still difficult for many of us to remember that teenagers want our attention. After all, this is the time when the real or the imaginary "keep out" signs start appearing on closed bedroom doors, when many of our children would rather spend two hours talking to a friend on the phone than 10 minutes talking to their mother or father in person. But what we are learning is that for all their declarations of independence, America's teenagers still want and need the everyday love, involvement and discipline of their parents.
Today, we are releasing a new poll, commissioned by the YMCA, which found that parents are still the most important adults in their teenagers' lives. More than three out of four teens say they still turn to their parents in times of trouble. In fact, while parents -- and this is so interesting -- while parents list the threat of drugs and alcohol as their top concerns about their teens, teens, themselves, list education and "not having enough time" with their parents as their top concern.
So it's time that we respond to these concerns, and many of us have been struggling with ways to do that. I believe one of the biggest casualties of modern life has been family time, especially time during meals, when parents and children can check out of their busy schedules and check in with each other. Before out daughter left for college, the three of us made it a priority to share at least one meal together a day.
With our hectic schedules, it wasn't always easily and, occasionally, wasn't possible. But we sure tried. And when we were able to, that hour or half-hour in the small kitchen of the private quarters upstairs in the White House was truly my favorite part of the day, because Bill and I were very convinced that we wanted to convey to our daughter a simple message, one that we hoped she would carry away to college: that whenever she does need someone to talk to or ask for advice, or just wants to say hello, we will be available and eager to listen.
I also know, though, the experience of hanging around, waiting for a sighting. (Laughter.) You know, when we were first in Washington, in the first term, a lot of people -- some of the pundits and others -- would say, well, the Clintons don't go out, they don't socialize enough, you know, why aren't they going to Camp David enough. And those are people who had forgotten or never had a teenager. And when you have one in your home, you want to hang around with the hope that just maybe they'll deign to say something to you. Occasionally, that works, but not always. And we hope this conference will inspire even more parents to stay involved in their teenagers' lives and to open new lines of communication.
I'm very pleased to announce the National Partnership for Women and Families, along with the Families and Work Institute, will lead a new campaign to promote the importance of spending time with your teenagers.
Now, there are some lessons we parents have to learn about this. That is not the time when you unload every piece of worldly advice you have stored up for your entire lifetime, it is not the time when you lecture and fill up the space with all the words that you want to fill. These are things that I've learned from experience.
It is, instead, a time when you hopefully are there to inspire the communication that is two-way and principally coming from your teen. The Time With Teens campaign will challenge parents to take stock of their own lives and work habits and look for ways to make more time for their children.
It will challenge businesses to offer more flexible work schedules and policies for parents, and it will challenge churches and synagogues, and mosques and schools, and health care agencies and all community organizations to create more opportunities for families to spend time together.
But we have to do more than just raise awareness among parents. We have to give parents the tools we all need to stay involved in our children's lives. That's why we're also launching a new White House Task Force on Navigating the New Media Age. Comprised of members from both the public and private sectors, this task force will find ways to transform the tools of the media age, namely the Internet, into tools for parents. The task force will develop two new Internet portals -- one that will link parents to information and advice on raising teens, from health and safety to child care and education; and a second to link teens to a variety of age-appropriate resources on the Internet.
We also recognize it is more difficult for parents to keep track of what teens are watching and learning on TV or on their home computer. The YMCA poll you'll hear about found that six out of 10 teenagers are watching television without parental supervision, while 45 percent of all teens say they surf the Internet on their own.
You know, when we only had one TV in the home, and you had to fight with your parents and your brothers and sisters to figure out which one of the three stations you were going to watch, it was a lot easier for parents to supervise what their children were watching. Now we have so many opportunities for kids to see things without any parental supervision, or even without an older brother or sister around saying, that's stupid, or how dumb that is, trying to interject some reality into the world that the media conveys to our kids.
We also know that the V-chip is now in effect, and I strongly urge parents -- particularly of young kids, but also of teenagers -- to learn how to program that V-chip and to use it.
There are several media rating systems in place to help parents determine the appropriateness of the shows their children watch. But with so many different systems, parents must hunt for the information needed to decode these various ratings. That's why we will ask the task force to work with the entertainment and media industries to create a single web site to help parents make sense of all the various rating systems, and use them to monitor their children's interactions with the media. I hope eventually, we will get to a uniform system of ratings, so that what is used on the video shows, is used on the movies, is used on the TV, is used across the board.
This is only a temporary step, the web site. But I renew, therefore, my challenge to the entertainment industry. Let's create a voluntary, uniform rating system so that all parents can better decide what's appropriate and what is not appropriate for their children to see.
The challenges before us are great, and the time between childhood and adulthood, as Bill and I can attest, is all too short. But if there is one message we hope all Americans will take away from this conference, it is that each of us has the power to make a difference in every teenager's life. And it is not just a task for parents. The research and our own experience shows that oftentimes, it is a teacher or a coach, a minister or an employer, a neighbor or another relative who can provide the mentoring and the stability that every young person needs. And sometimes during a rocky period in a teen's life, it may be somebody outside of a parent who can be turned to with good advice and suggestions.
So it is not just a conference aimed at teens and their parents, it's really a conference for our entire country; to be committed; to make what is biologically a disorienting time for our teens and a time of exploration, a confusing time -- to make it more of an opportunity and a real journey to self-discovery; to take a time of peril and turn it into a time of promise.
We have a lot of experts and, certainly, we have teens and parents, as well -- we're going to be talking about what has worked for them. And it will be a challenge to us. But when I speak to groups of teenagers, I always start by telling them how proud I am of the way that they are coping with their lives, because the great, vast majority of our kids are good kids.
That is not the message that we often receive on the media, where we only see the stereotypes and the negative depictions. And a lot of these kids are doing the very best they can. In fact, the flip side of our concern is that some of them take their lives so seriously and strive for such perfection that the teen years are a time of even heightened misery and anxiety because they don't think they're measuring up.
So we have got to do a better job in sending a message to our kids that we value them, we love them, we care about them, and that's why we want to be as involved in their lives as possible. So let me now introduce my co-parent -- (laughter) -- and someone who has been deeply committed to the young people of our country, the President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you and good morning. I want to join with Hillary in welcoming you to the White House, and thanking all of you for coming. I thank the foundations that have helped us. And thank you, David Hamburg. I still remember when we worked on a report about the developmental needs of young adolescents back in the late '80s, in which we recommended, among other things, that there ought to be community service in all of our schools -- something that we're finally getting around to.
I thank all of those who are here. I see so many people out here in this audience who have done so much to help our young people, our teenagers, live better lives. I see one of the founders of the City Year program in Boston. I see a man who has adopted a huge number of children, along with his wife, and personally made sure that they got through their teenage years. There are many, many stories here. I'm grateful to all of you.
I'm very grateful to Secretary Shalala and Secretary Herman, and our National Service Chairman, Senator Harris Wofford; and Deputy Attorney General Holder, and Janice LaChance, and all the others who are here from the administration -- the Deputy Director of our Drug Office, Donald Vereen. And thank you, Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones. I thank you all for what you are doing.
I want to thank the panelists, and those who will come on afterward. And I think we ought to give one more hand to the families that were in the film, that walked in with Hillary and me. They did a great job. (Applause.)
You know, we've worked very hard on these family issues for a long time, and Hillary has done so for 30 years. But the way I see this as President, as well as a parent, looking ahead to the kind of America we're trying to build in the new century -- when I became President, we had to worry about whether everybody who wanted or needed a job could get one. And that was very important. And the dignity of work is very important to families. It helps to define the shape of family life in ways that are by and large positive.
I'll never forget once when I was governor, I had a panel of former welfare recipients that were in the work force, and one of my colleagues asked the lady from my state, said, well, what's the best thing about having a job. And she said, the best thing about it is when my boy goes to school and they say, what does your mama do for a living, he can give an answer.
But, by the same token, we live in a country that's very good at creating jobs, but is not as good at providing family supports; in which people are busier and busier and busier; and in which virtually everybody has some trouble balancing work and family during the period of the child's life. Even parents who are staying at home have trouble doing it.
And it is a problem that is more severe for single parents and people that have more than one job or people that have trouble getting around. It's a problem that's more severe for people that work for very modest incomes. But I don't think I know any parents who are working who have not had some periods in their lives when they worried whether they were letting their kids down because they weren't spending enough time with them; or whether there were too many forces out there that were kind of undermining that.
And one of the things that I have learned, in ways large and small over an unfortunately increasingly elderly existence -- (laughter) -- is that everybody has got a story, everybody. And every child has a spark inside. And I believe that everyone has a role to play and ought to be given a chance. And as important as work is -- and I say that coming from a family of workaholics -- the most important work that society does is still to raise children. And if that work is done well, the rest of it pretty well takes care of itself.
And so we're here, basically, to do all the things that Hillary said. I think when a tragedy befalls a child, or a child is involved in a tragedy -- a school shooting, or this terrible incident at the Washington Zoo -- it throws it up in large relief. But I think that one of the things we ought to do in beginning this conference is to take a more balanced view. And I want to be very brief because I want you to have the maximum amount of time with the keynote speaker and with the panelists. But I think it's important that we have a balanced view of what teenage life is like today.
And I asked the Council of Economic Advisors to actually get me a statistical portrait of teenage America. And here is a brief summary. The good news is that the teenagers are far healthier, more prosperous, and look forward to more promising lives than ever before in our history. The economic rewards of education are at an all-time high. Teens have responded by completing high school and enrolling college at record rates.
Last year, for the first time in the history of the country, the high school graduation of African Americans and the white majority was almost statistically identical. The dropout rate among Hispanic young people is still too high, but that's largely explained, I think, by the fact that we have still a very large number of Hispanic children in our schools who are first-generation immigrants whose first language is not English, and they come from families that are struggling to make ends meet, and very often they drop out to go to work still. But we're making progress there, as well.
More teenagers than ever before volunteering to serve through community service. Many harmful behaviors are actually on the decline, including youth violence, homicide, suicide, teen pregnancy, and, in the last couple of years, drug use. That's the good news.
The report also highlights some significant challenges. There are still significant opportunity gaps between white students and students of color. Teen smoking, drug use and pregnancy are still far too high. And despite a marked decline in teen homicide over the past few years, still far too many communities are scarred by gun violence.
Interestingly enough, statistically the Council of Economic Advisers found that gun-related teen deaths from deliberate acts and from accidents are highly correlated with gun ownership and possession rates. In states with fewer guns in fewer households, there are fewer gun deaths.
Perhaps the most empowering finding in the new report is the extent to which parents have the opportunity to guide their teenagers properly. Sitting down to dinner can have an enormously positive impact. The report found that teenagers who had dinner with -- listen to this: The report found that teenagers that had dinner with their parents five nights a week are far more likely to avoid smoking, drinking, violence, suicide and drugs. This holds true for single-parent, as well as two-parent families, across all income and racial groups. Now, obviously if that is not possible, and sometimes it's not possible, then it's really important to find some way to fill that gap, but it's a stunning statistical finding.
For the past seven years, the First Lady and I have worked with our administration to try to support parents' efforts to raise healthy, hopeful and responsible children. I'd also like to acknowledge the invaluable efforts of Vice President and Mrs. Gore, who have had -- even before he joined me, they were sponsoring a family conference every year in Tennessee to deal with these issues. It's really one of the most astonishing, consistent commitments I believe in the country. And they've done a world of good and I'm very grateful to them.
I'll always be proud that the first bill I signed as President was the Family and Medical Leave Act, a law that now has given more than 20 million Americans the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing their jobs. And I remember when I signed it, it had previously been vetoed on the theory that it would hurt the economic growth of the country. If that's what it was designed to do, it's been a very poor failure. (Laughter.)
What it has done is to prove that it's good economics to balance work and family; that the more parents can succeed at home, the more free they are, psychologically, to be productive at work; and we ought to do more.
I have asked the Congress to include more firms in the Family and Medical Leave law and to expand the purposes for which people can take family leave. We have also tried to give states the flexibility to use funds in federal accounts to help to finance paid leave. We've worked hard on this, and I think it's very important that we recognize that the United States has done a great job at creating jobs, but we still give far less support to the responsibility of balancing work and family than virtually every other industrialized country in the world. And it is very important to do that.
We've also worked hard to turn teenagers away from unhealthy lives, toward healthy futures. The rate of drug use has been cut, in part by the powerful antidrug messages that have been broadcast; and some of you here have helped us with that. We have done our best to engage the tobacco industry in what has been a fairly epic and sometimes frustrating struggle to reduce teen smoking. We made the single largest investment in children's health care since Medicaid was created. And we're working to get more of our kids -- and increasingly, I hope, this year, their parents -- enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program. And we're working to make or schools safer.
I think that we also need comprehensive strategies to stem violence both in and out of schools. Our program would dramatically expand quality after-school programs. When I started, we had $1 million dollars for after-school programs; then we went to $20 million; then we went to $200 million. This year we've got $400 million in after-school programs. And I've proposed $1 billion, and if we pass it, we'll be able to say that every child, at least in every troubled neighborhood in the United States of America, can be in an after-school program. This is a big deal, and I hope you will support it. (Applause.)
I also want to say a word of thanks to all those who have supported AmeriCorps, including City Year and its other components. We've now had more than 150,000 young people earning money for college while serving in their communities. And we're trying to get more and more people to start earlier, to get high school kids, junior high school kids, involved in community service.
Maryland has become the first state in America to require community service as a condition of a high school diploma. And listen to this: The study found that teens who participate in service projects in their communities are 75 percent less likely to drop out of school -- because they're connected in a way that I think is profoundly important.
Hillary talked about the work we're doing with the industry to give parents the tools to protect their children in the new media age. I do think we need a voluntary system that goes across TV, movies and video games. If we can find some way to develop that, it would make a lot of sense. There's a lot of information coming at parents -- you know, I try to sort it all out when I see it. And I think it would be better if there were -- it's almost like you need a dictionary to explain the differences in the TV ratings and movie ratings and the video game ratings, so we have to find some way this can be made more usable.
And today, I want to just mention two things that we're trying to do to help parents and their teenagers. First, I'm signing an Executive Order to prohibit discrimination against parents in the work force of the federal government. (Applause.) Believe it or not, there are still some employers who are reluctant to hire or to promote employees who have children at home. Some of you may have experienced this yourselves. The goal of this order simply says, no glass ceiling for parents. The job they're doing at home is more important, anyway, and if they can do your job, you ought not to stop them.
Second, I am pleased to announce that our National Campaign Against Youth Violence, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Tobacco-Free Kids, and the national government have teamed up to produce a comprehensive guide to help parents support their teenagers through this crucial and often difficult developmental period.
Now, I want to introduce our keynote speaker now, and say I'm sorry that I can't stay for the rest of the day, but after he speaks I'll have to leave. But let me say that I want to thank you for coming, again. I want to thank so many of you here for a lifetime of commitment. People ask me all the time, why are we focusing on these things when all the indicators are good and things are going better. This is the time to be thinking about -- I will say again -- how we can deal with the significant challenges of this country. And anybody that thinks that we've done everything we need to do to help the parents with teenagers, hasn't had teenagers and hasn't been around lately.
It seems to me that if we can't deal with these big social issues now, when we're prosperous, when we're doing well; if we can't strengthen the bonds of our community now, when will we ever get around to doing it. That's why we're here. (Applause.)
I want to introduce a person who embodies much of the good that's going on to help parents through having the village do its part -- in the First Lady's words -- to raise our children. Ben Casey is the President of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. He has degrees in psychology and counseling from UCLA and Chapman College. He currently oversees programs -- listen to this -- 145 program centers that serve a quarter of all the families in the greater Dallas region. We've asked him to speak to us today about his extensive experience with teens, the wise new poll which also has some important findings about the way teens and parents view their communication and time together.
And let me just finally say, Mr. Casey, as I bring you up, every minute I have ever spent with young people, as President and before, but especially as President, has reaffirmed to me how special they are, what enormous potential they have. Even the ones that can't make it, really want to and wish they could. And what a profound responsibility we have. And I want to honor you, sir, because you spend every day trying to make sure we don't lose a single one. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:05 A.M. EDT