Clinton Offers Family-Friendly Goals At Teen Conference

By Jessica Portner — May 10, 2000 4 min read

At a White House conference on teenagers last week, President Clinton called on Congress to adopt several family-friendly budget items and signed an executive order that bars federal workplaces from discriminating against employees who are parents.

“Believe it or not, there are still some employers who are reluctant to hire or to promote employees who have children at home,” the president said to an audience of more than 100 teenagers, educators, researchers, and parents gathered for the conference, titled “Raising Responsible and Resourceful Youth.”

“The goal of this order simply says, no glass ceiling for parents,” Mr. Clinton added.

While the stresses of parenting were a main theme of the daylong event, chaired by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the sessions also focused on what schools, the media, and communities can do to help rear healthy adolescents.

President and Mrs. Clinton convened the conference, which was televised by satellite, to spark a public dialogue about ways to promote healthy teenage behavior following a rash of school shootings in the past few years.

Riley Against ‘Profiling’

Following the president’s remarks, the conferees divided into seven small groups to hear expert panels, chaired by Cabinet secretaries, discuss the latest research on topics from media literacy to violence prevention.

At a session devoted to building supportive school environments for teenagers, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley voiced his strong opposition to the practice, already being used in some districts, of “profiling” students who are deemed at risk of getting involved in violent behavior.

“When you deal with troubled children, labeling them as dangerous is a mistake,” Mr. Riley told the audience of educators and researchers gathered in a brick conference center across the street from the White House. His remarks came as the FBI develops a controversial guide to help school administrators and others identify possible perpetrators of school violence by elucidating the personality characteristics of students who have committed violent crimes at school.

The bureau began the effort following a public call to better identify students who may seek to emulate the two teenagers who shot and killed 12 other students and a teacher and then committed suicide at Colorado’s Columbine High School a year ago. The FBI has interviewed dozens of students for the project, and its guide, which has already drawn criticism from many education and school heath experts, is expected to be released later this month.

Reginald M. Felton, the director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, applauded Mr. Riley’s statement after the conference last week. “We need to be cautious that profiling doesn’t adversely affect certain segments of our populations such as urban, Latino, African-American students,” he said. “Profiling typically affirms images that aren’t necessarily true.”

Time Crunch

Also at the conference last week, Mrs. Clinton released the results of a national poll commissioned by the administration and conducted last month by the YMCA. Based on 200 interviews with 12- to 15-year-olds and their parents, the survey shows a disconnection between what parents and teenagers consider most troubling. It found that a majority of parents listed their teenagers’ exposure to drug and alcohol as the single biggest worry facing their families. Teenagers, on the other hand, listed education and “not having enough time together” as a family as their biggest concerns.

To respond to the time crunch families face, President Clinton urged Congress to meet his request for $1 billion in funding for after-school programs for fiscal 2001—an amount that would more than double the current year’s $400 million budget. Mr. Clinton said such programs would provide children with positive adult role models while their parents were at work.

Jay T. Engeln, the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Principal of the Year and a speaker at last week’s event, praised the president’s plan. “Too many kids are just hanging out after school. Support groups for at-risk students are great because they provide them with extra help,” said Mr. Engeln, the principal of William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Government Intrusion?

Heather Cirmo, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, based in Washington, criticized the conference, saying it was heavy on platitudes.

“A lot of what they talked about is common sense. It’s like, ‘Gee, if you spend time with your teenager, they are going to benefit from that.’ Parents know that already,” Ms. Cirmo said. “What parents need is less government intrusion,” she added.

Mr. Clinton also unveiled a new World Wide Web site,, that can act as a gateway to federal or other publicly supported Web sites that focus on teenagers.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2000 edition of Education Week as Clinton Offers Family-Friendly Goals At Teen Conference