Stay Off My Lawn!

UCI prof turns grouchy, predicts end of civilization, criticizes neighborhood kids

In fact, the DAWN numbers show the opposite: teens were the only group that didn't show increased drug abuse during the 1990s, as measured either in hospital treatments or deaths. In contrast, every adult age group suffered dramatic spikes in drug abuse (especially of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and alcohol mixed with drugs). The biggest jump (230 percent) and worst abuse rates were among Americans aged 35 to 54—Currie's own innocent generation.

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Currie's motive is clear: it's time to resurrect the moral vision of the 1960s.

Kids today, he suggests, are the unfortunate alien spawn of years of neoconservative politics. Forged by Reaganomics and dot-com bubbles, raised in sterile suburbs by parents too busy to parent, these kids turned inward—and found nothing. If only they could go back in time: the generations of the 1950s and '60s were safer, Currie writes, because they were nurtured by a "moral vision that prevailed in much of middle-class America" when "basic notions of collective responsibility" and the "generous vision and the social policies that flowed from it" prevailed.

But Currie's ode to '60s liberalism crumbles under closer scrutiny. If there ever was a white-youth crisis in America, it came in the late 1960s and early '70s. The numbers show that's when violent deaths, suicides and self-destructiveness, random violence, arrests, drug overdoses, and sexually transmitted infections peaked. If you want anecdotes of alienated, murderous, drug-wasted middle-class white kids to define the times, ponder the Manson Family.

But such facts are uncomfortable for a generation that might prefer to remember Woodstock rather than Altamont, the Freedom Riders rather than the Hells Angels. The kids who grew up in the 1960s were dangerous to themselves and others—blame their Greatest Generation parents if you must, but baby boomers continue to produce staggering rates of addiction, depression, suicide, crime and family chaos that dwarf those of their teenaged children. Among the over-35 set, felony arrests have tripled, violence arrests quadrupled, hard-drug overdose deaths quintupled. Today's middle-aged Orange Countians are two to three times more criminal and drug-abusing than their counterparts 30 years ago. Compared with their kids, white people in their 40s are 2.5 times more at risk of violent death (twice as likely to die by guns, specifically), three times more suicidal, eight times more likely to die from illicit-drug abuse, and—shockingly—now record higher violence and felony arrest rates than their kids.

Faced with such facts, you might expect Currie to urge radical intervention to save white middle-class parents. But he never faces them. Instead, he takes refuge in the myth of Woodstock. Today's parents are responsible only for milder sins, he says. "Frazzled and frightened," "overworked" and "pinched," they suffer from an "individualistic" American culture that abandons families while imposing harsh edicts on child raising.

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RoadtoWhateverjoins Mary Bray Pipher's RevivingOphelia, Meredith Maran's Dirty:ASearchforAnswersInsideAmerica'sTeenageDrugEpidemicand a growing catalog of books that are less about teens than the jumbled anxieties of a frightened older generation unable to adapt to change. What's needed are thoughtful visionaries to point out this hopeful sign: OC's multicultural teens—42 percent Latino; 39 percent white; 19 percent Asian, black and "other"—are safer and healthier than the kids who lived here in the 1970s, when seven in eight OC teens were Anglo and drug abuse, death and crime rates were far higher.

But numbers are a precarious thing. Complicated, they're often ignored; uncomfortable, they're often dismissed in favor of stories put out by aging, anxious and powerful adults. If multiracial Orange County and California have a future, the progressives have to cut out their groundless teen-terror panics. Now.

MikeMalesearnedhisPh.D.insocialecologyatUCIrvine.Hehaswrittenfourbooksonadolescents,teachessociologyatUCSantaCruzandconsultsfortheCenteronJuvenileandCriminalJustice,SanFrancisco.Formore,gotohome.earthlink.net/~mmales.

ELLIOTT CURRIE'S THE ROAD TO WHATEVER: MIDDLE-CLASS CULTURE AND THE CRISIS OF ADOLESCENCE (METROPOLITAN BOOKS, HENRY HOLT & CO.), 2005.

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