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CNN Today

Shalala: Government Should Help Parents Tailor Work Schedule to be 'Supportive of Their Children'

Aired May 2, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happy, successful, well-adjusted teenagers, millions of parents swear that's a contradiction in terms, but experts say it could be a matter of the nurturing and mental stimulation kids receive as pre-teens.

According to new research, kids' brains grow and develop just as much in the pre-teen years as they do between birth and age three. We tell you this because the White House is devoting the whole day to the art and science of raising teenagers.

CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor is there -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, that scientific evidence shows that these teenage years are very, very important in developing the brain. And yet, while they are critical, three out of four teenagers say that they don't spend enough time with their parents. Although, 78 percent say it is their parents they want to turn to in times of trouble.

So the president and the first lady is calling on the workplace, communities and schools to help parents find that time. Saying that it is even more necessary to help the brain develop and to help their children face the new kinds of challenges that today's environment brings on with new technologies and new media.

Actor Danny DeVito said the most important thing that you can do for your teen is actually one of the simplest things: just spend time with them and just be there for them to turn to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR/DIRECTOR/PARENT: There's so many things going through their head. You know, all kinds of weird thoughts and whatever and what do they do? And if they don't have anybody that they trust and they can turn to, it's, you know, it's devastating. They're confused and they're mad, or they're sad, or a combination of, you know, all that at once.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: The president said that it is a little bit of time, but even on a consistent basis, it is really important. He cited a study showing that teens who have dinner with their families five nights a week, have a much lower incidence of taking drugs, of drinking and of teen pregnancy.

With me is the secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala.

Thank you for joining us.

DONNA SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: You're welcome.

O'CONNOR: You were at the conference today. What do you think that government should do, as the president asks government to do, to help parents find more time to spend with their teenagers?

SHALALA: Well, there are a number of things we can do. Obviously, parents that are worried about health care for their kids or child care don't have to work a second job to help pay for those things. So we can reduce the amount of time they have to be in the work force, increase the amount of time they can be at home.

But government can also be a model employer. I tell my senior people: don't have a meeting after 6:00, I want you to go home with your families, I want you to have dinner with your kids.

O'CONNOR: The president also called for an end to discrimination in the federal workplace against parents. Do you find that there is discrimination against parents in the workplace overall, even in private industry?

SHALALA: I know there is. I once had to talk to a supervisor who said to me that he was having trouble with his secretary because every day at 3:00 she got a number of phone calls after work. Those calls were from her kids checking in as they went home, and I said to him: She's doing the best thing she can do as a parent, making sure she knows where her children are. So it doesn't effect the quality of her work, you just let her take the time and get those calls from her kids.

O'CONNOR: You talked about tax breaks to help parents pay for day care, and perhaps the president talked about more funding for after school programs. But what about tax breaks for families, for a parent who wants to stay home from work? Is that under consideration?

SHALALA: Well, it is under consideration, and in fact, we believe the tax system ought to work in a way that it doesn't discriminate against a family in which one family member -- it can be a male or a female who decides to stay home with the children. The tax system itself ought not to work in a way that discriminates against that family.

The fact is, though, for most families in this country, for good economic reasons, both parents are working. We have to make sure that their work hours are those in which are supportive of their children. Having dinner with your kids is very important.

O'CONNOR: OK, thank you, secretary.

SHALALA: You're welcome.

O'CONNOR: And the teen conference will continue throughout the day. The president and first lady are hoping that by bringing all these experts together they'll be able to disseminate some of the kinds of strategies that are working in the schools and communities.

I'm Eileen O'Connor, reporting live from the White House.

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