This is an editorial intended to begin a conversation, more to pose a few questions than to answer them.
Let's start with a seemingly innocuous one: When was the last time your family sat down at the table together for dinner?
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Maybe that happens with regularity in your house. Maybe you coordinate the schedules, turn off the TVs, put the smartphones away, lower the volume on the music, stop the running, stop the fussing, cease the distractions. And sit down to the family meal with healthy servings of gratitude and conversation.
But in many homes, that doesn't happen. In many homes, the family meal has all but disappeared, perhaps pulled out rarely as a ritual to be endured on special occasions or perhaps never to be pulled out at all.
Our point here isn't necessarily to begin a campaign to bring back the family meal (although we certainly endorse the tradition).
We refer to it here as simply one example of the myriad ways life in general and certainly life in the suburbs has changed in a single generation. And to allude to the implications these changes have for our young.
As part of the Chicago Community Trust-inspired On the Table campaign last week, we met (coincidentally enough for mealtime conversations) with community leaders and average suburbanites at five different venues and gatherings.
A variety of civic problems were raised at those discussions, as you might expect. But at almost all of them, the conversation eventually turned in one form or another to at-risk youth.
We of course face many challenges in the suburbs. This is the nature of things, the way the world evolves and progresses. But few of those challenges may be as significant as the obligation to provide the love and the support and the direction to enable our young to prosper.
This is a challenge every generation of parents faces, and despite almost every generation's misgivings, it is a challenge that in many ways usually gets met.
But the challenge today appears greater than almost ever before, from almost every direction.
The evolution of our culture plays a role. The rise of divorce, the decline of spirituality, the increase in single-parent households, stressful suburban lifestyles, the pace of the technological explosion, the sexual revolution, the drug culture, Hollywood values. You don't necessarily have to bemoan any of these cultural shifts to acknowledge their implications.
But the challenge is not simply one of culture. Our schools today see more students raised at or near the poverty line than ever before. The halls of our schools are filled with a multiplicity of languages never heard before.
Many suburban young people today live in realities short on role models, expectations, love and involvement, realities that include gangs, abuse, broken homes and open streets.
The question of what we are to do about our at-risk youth is one of the most profound we face.
And it is not just those youth who depend on our answer.
If we fail our kids today, what will be the impact of their adulthoods on the suburbs tomorrow?