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Look around, our kids are basically pretty good


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

Every once in a great while I am asked to speak somewhere on a specific subject -- providing something other than my standard 30 minutes of belly-button-lint-grabbing and babbling.

Every once in a great while I am asked to speak somewhere on a specific subject -- providing something other than my standard 30 minutes of belly-button-lint-grabbing and babbling.

That is always a little scary for a couple of reasons.

It requires me to gather my thoughts on a subject at a time in my life when gathering my thoughts is no longer a moment's occupation but, rather, a task of near Herculean proportions.

It also causes me to cast myself, for a few moments, in the posture of one who knows anything about anything, a posture in which I have never been comfortable for reasons that should be obvious to regular readers.

But the West Pasco Bar Association and the West Pasco Legal Support Association asked me to give a speech this week on Law Day. They wanted me to speak on children and how the law and legal system serve them or might better serve them. For all of my professed ignorance about the subject, I hate to let a collection of thoughts, no matter how hastily assembled, go to waste.

First, I believe that we begin all such deliberations with the false belief that the sky is falling -- that our entire society and especially our children are going to hell in a hand basket and that a substantial percentage of our youth are sexually demented, crack-smoking thugs and sluts who live and breathe only for the opportunity to figure prominently in a mass school-shooting episode.

We lose track of the truth, which is that on the rare day that one or two kids commit a horrendous act such as the Columbine shootings, tens of millions of them get up, go to school, sit quietly in class, take tests, go to football and band practice and then go home to normal and loving families.

For every teenage junkie there is a teenage honor student or student government member; for every burglar there is an FFA member grooming a steer for the next county fair; and for every kid having unprotected sex there is another one doing volunteer work with the elderly or active in a church or civic group.

As if in support of my point, the law group's Marsha Glisson Scholarship winner, Elizabeth Haigh from River Ridge High School, told them later that she received notice of her winning while she was at a Future Business Leaders of America competition.

Not, you will note, at a rave, crack house or juvenile detention center.

We hear a lot about the problem kids, because that is how things are supposed to be.

It would be nice in our society to dwell only on the things that are going right; to deal in tales only of honest and hard-working politicians and public officials and to hear those things only from journalists not interested in exploiting social ills for hard cash.

I'm pretty sure the average daily newspaper could do just that, tell only the feel-good stories about the smoothly working portions of our society.

The problem is that it would weigh about 600 pounds and, absent the kind of advertising revenues not normally available to such publications, it would cost a couple of thousand dollars a day to have delivered, and would serve about as much purpose and inspire about as much desire for change as the Congressional Record.

And, for all of its failings, the system aimed at serving the best interests of children works more often than it fails. For every failure to intervene soon enough in the case of a probably battered child, the appropriate agencies react properly thousands of times -- and no one ever hears about it. For every over-reaction in which a child is peremptorily removed from a home too soon, the system works long and patiently with a thousand other homes to bring about the best result possible.

For every uninterested, abusive, neglectful or just plain dysfunctional parent, there are tens of thousands who take a vital interest in their children's lives, give and receive respect from their offspring and are always interested in ways to make things better.

It is when things go wrong, break down and stop functioning -- when the social vehicle is careening toward a precipice and there is no guardrail -- that we as a society must take note, but there are also many happy normal scenic straightaways on that highway.

I'm not saying there aren't a few hailstones up there.

But the sky is a long way from falling.

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