Code Blue. The phrase calls up images of hospital emergency rooms. Nurses rushing with IVs, orderlies pushing stretchers. Code Blue signals a life-threatening emergency and summons all efforts to save the patient’s life.
These images came to mind when I read a recent study of American teens. One of the study’s sponsors, the American Medical Association, appropriately labelled it Code Blue–not to signal a medical emergency but a social emergency. The study found that adolescents today exhibit record rates of suicide, anti-social behavior, poor school performance, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol abuse.
You’ve heard all these dreary facts before. But what makes this report interesting is what it offers as the source of these problems. A central factor in the youth crisis, the report says, is the changes in our neighborhoods and families that have left many children “on their own.” The report points to the mobility of American families and the need for second incomes, which, it says, “have robbed too many young people of stable families and communities where they are surrounded by caring adults to guide their growth and behavior.”
It’s about time, I thought. For decades, the experts have been telling adults they are free to couple up any way they prefer–hey, kids can adapt. But now the experts finally realize that stable, committed families are the best places for children to grow up.
For decades, the experts have been telling adults they should feel free to put their children in substitute care–hey, it’s good for them to be independent. Now they finally realize children thrive best when they have warm and intimate relationships with their own parents.
This report is off to a great start, I thought. I was eager to see how it would end. If children flounder when families fail, surely the report would recommend ways to help families succeed. Surely it would recommend commitment and faithfulness.
Alas, I was wrong. All the problems plaguing youth today??from drug use to suicide to teen sex–were labeled in the report as health problems. And the solution called for was guaranteed access to health services.
Health services? If the problem is that children have been “left on their own,” to use the report’s own words–is what they really need a clinic? And if the problem is that children have been “robbed…of stable families and communities”??is what they need a doctor?
Are we supposed to believe that there is a pill or a shot that can make a lonely child feel loved? A sad child feel secure?
The good news is that the report correctly diagnoses the core problem–namely, that modern society gives adults permission to adopt lifestyles out of sync with the needs of their children. The bad news is that the report calls this a health problem.
Really it is a moral problem.
Why do the experts leave out the moral dimension? Because a moral law implies a Law-giver to whom we are morally obligated. And that is something many people simply don’t want to acknowledge.
And so the experts hobble along, diagnosing the disease, balking at the cure. It’s as though a hospital issued a Code Blue alert, and the doctors had a perfectly good cure at hand but they refused to use it, because it would obligate them to the pharmaceutical firm that made the cure–or even because it would suggest that there was anyone who made it.
The outcome, of course, is that the patient would die. Just as children are dying–both literally and spiritually–on our streets today.