Good afternoon and thank you for your invitation to join you today. I am particularly pleased to be here today because, as some of you may know, both Al and I started our careers as journalists. Al was a reporter and I was a photojournalist at the TENNESSEAN.
THE WHITE HOUSE
REMARKS BY MRS. GORE
PARENT 2000 CONFERENCE
October 15, 1997
I believe this magazine in particular provides a great service to America. When our first child was born, Al and I, like many other parents, looked for guidance anywhere we could find it. Unfortunately, there were few "how to" manuals for being a parent. Parents Magazine is a vital resource for both new and experienced parents and we thank you for providing such timely and important information.
It's not easy being a parent in any generation, but it does seem to be especially challenging for today's generation of parents. Our lives have changed so much from the days when the norm included two-parent households, extended families, only one parent in the workplace, and strong community and religious ties.
At that same time, pressures on children have increased. The pressure of growing up too quickly. Pressure from peers to take part in risky behaviors. The pressure of violence that fills our entertainment and our news.
SIDS, AIDS, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco, violence, hunger, poverty -- the list of health risks can be daunting. At a time when we are making stunning advances in technology, new drugs and new cures, we still have so far to go in teaching parents and children to avoid risky, often life threatening behavior.
How do we as parents cope? More importantly, how do we help our children cope in our increasingly complex and scary world?
The first step is education and awareness. And, Parents Magazine can play a huge role in helping parents get the benefit of the most recent research pertaining to children.
For example, we now know that the best prevention for SIDS is to put babies to sleep on their backs. As Honorary Chair of the HHS "Back To Sleep" campaign, I am working to spread this message nationwide. I'm delighted to say that since we began this campaign, the incidence of SIDS has dropped by 15 percent.
Recent media reports of a newly released book have some experts discussing multiple SIDS deaths in one family as serious cause for suspicion of child abuse and grounds for criminal investigation. It is so important for you, the writers and editors of this magazine and other media to know that most SIDS cases are not linked to allegations of abuse and neglect. We must continue to deal with SIDS deaths with the utmost sensitivity. To suddenly lose an infant is a parent's greatest nightmare; to be regarded with suspicion compounds that nightmare. Each case must be investigated individually, sensitively and thoroughly. I caution the writers of this magazine and other reporters to help us ensure that we do not lose the hard fought ground that has been won on SIDS by slowing our efforts to get the "Back To Sleep" message out.
Again, helping parents learn about the importance of educating their children about the risks of drugs, alcohol, sexually-transmitted diseases, and tobacco is the first step toward addressing these risky behaviors. While efforts begin in the home, they need not stop there. Educational efforts must be supported through community resource organizations, schools, other institutions and also through government policy.
For example, we are making real progress on a major public health issue in America -- tobacco use. Nicotine addiction, which lures more than 3,000 children every day and will cost 1,000 of them their lives, is the nation's number one preventable cause of death. We know that is our children don't start smoking by the time they turn 19, they're unlikely to start at all. But once they start, it's hard to stop: 70% of adult smokers want to quit but can't. This Administration has made huge strides in restricting access of tobacco products to minors. We will continue to work with the FDA to regulate tobacco products so that we can ensure the health of our children.
It is up to parents to teach children right from wrong at a very early age -- before the age of five even. If we wait until they are teens, we are too late. Discussing values is vitally important for our children -- to show we care and to show that human beings have a responsibility to themselves and to each other.
One of the areas I have been especially involved in is mental health. Children are the least likely to receive treatment for mental disorders, with only 20 percent of those with problems getting care -- and in many cases, inappropriate care. That leaves up to 11 million children with untreated mental illness. Children also have the greatest risk of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among adolescents.
Parents must have frank and open conversations with children, even young children about depression and other issues. Clinical depression is a treatable disease -- and as a society, we must continue to work to erase the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding depression and mental illness.
As parents, it is difficult to stay in tune with every aspect of our children's lives. I am a strong advocate of parental involvement in education. All too often, there is not enough connection between a child's home and school. Parents struggling to balance work and family may find it hard to find the time to help their children with homework, or read to their children. And for overworked teachers, that telephone call from the parent may feel like an intrusion, rather than an invitation to work together on a joint mission -- the education of a child.
I am convinced that if all of us -- parents, schools and communities -- create and innovate and make the commitment to work together, to re-connect home and school, our children will have the skills, knowledge, and confidence they will need to succeed as workers, parents, and leaders in the 21st century.
But, as we all know too well, parents can't be involved in every aspect of their child's life. Violence has reached epidemic proportions in our society and children are its chief victims. In fact, homicide is the leading cause of death among inner city children. How do parents protect their children from the violence on the streets?
First, parents need to understand that they should not have to face these problems alone. Everyone needs to be a part of the solution. As my friend Hillary Clinton so aptly pointed out in her book, it truly does take a village to raise a child. Government must think of children in every policy decision that is made. Communities must explore ways to combat violence, and provide the resources parents and families need to feel safe. Society must show children that they are loved and valued.
Progress is being made on all fronts. Violence is down and crime is at the lowest level it's been in a decade.
And thanks to President Clinton and my husband, working parents have the protection of the Family and Medical Leave Act to ensure that they can still care for a sick child and maintain their place in the workforce.
This summer, President Clinton signed the first balanced budget in a generation -- that includes the largest investment in health care for children since the passage of Medicaid in 1965, including a provision for mental health coverage, of which I am especially proud.
Of course, good policies can help, but parents still are the critical ingredient in their child's life. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that the love between a parent and child is the strongest influencing factor in a child's life, above peers, teachers, and media. I guess love does conquer all.
The raising of a child is a complex, all-consuming task. No one automatically knows how to be the best parent. As a society, it is time to bring our best institutions to bear to help prepare parents and children with the skills, the knowledge, and the love they need to thrive in the next millennium.
Thank you again for all that you do to help our parents with this, the most important task for any human being, and any society.