Despite these alarming statistics, the president has never given a major address (not even a radio talk) focusing on children victimized by violence in the home. Even though family violence is the chief killer of children under age 13 and women of all ages, the Centers for Disease Control and other violence-prevention agencies barely acknowledge it exists. In this climate of heightened family chaos and high-level denial, the wonder is that school carnage isn't more common.
Perversely, officially fanned fear is directed at schools, one of society's safest places from homicide. In Los Angeles, 15,000 people have been murdered during the 1990s. Five occurred at school. Of 1,500 murders in Orange County during this decade, none took place at school. This is a stunning safety record for institutions serving 2 million students, including 700,000 teenagers whom we tend to stereotype as impulsively violent. No wonder, amid incessant official and media alarms about "epidemic" and "rising school violence," recent surveys find well over 90% of students and teachers rate their schools as safe.
Odds and statistics are of no comfort to those victimized by violence, to be sure. But larger policy, resource allocation and academic analysis should focus on the biggest dangers to kids. The Clinton administration's own agencies have assembled reams of ignored statistics showing that today's teens are being raised by a parent generation displaying exploding rates of domestic violence, property crime, drug offenses, addiction and family instability. Unfortunately, talking about family violence, about how uncannily teenage behaviors reflect those of adults (good and bad), does not meet the needs of politicians and politically attuned authorities. Clinton's presidency evidences the disturbing extent to which the most serious crime and health issues have been refashioned, through exhaustive polling and focus groups, into popular moral fables. In this age of political handlers, it is hard to imagine a national leader willing to take on the distressing "adult" problem.
To the contrary. Conventional wisdom holds that grown-ups vote and kids don't, that no politician wins today without flattering the baby boomers, and that '90s wedge-issue politicking demands moralistic "us versus them" positioning. When authorities treat the worst dangers young people face as taboo topics because they are impolitic to raise, they dismiss young people themselves as unimportant and falsely hold up the younger generation as a symbol of all that has gone wrong with society. The question is not, "Where are the adults?" but "Where is adulthood?"