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Hopeful Youths

Broad statistical portraits have their limitations. People aren't always candid in what they tell survey takers. Still, it was good to hear that strong majorities of young Americans say they respect their parents and trust their government.

Sizable percentages (53 percent of girls and 41 percent of boys) also felt sexual relations should be limited to marriage, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News survey.

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Bolstering those figures, a study just completed by the National Center for Health Statistics found a clear decline in teen pregnancies between 1991 and 1996. Some credit efforts to teach abstinence; other emphasize more use of contraception.

In any case, these findings appear to indicate a reservoir of good sense and teachability in today's youths, that flies in the face of entertainment-dazed, oversexed stereotypes.

They connect with another story from recent days - Colin Powell's enthusiastic report on the gains made by his organization "America's Promise."

Mr. Powell is devoting himself to encouraging volunteerism that helps youths. He cites increased participation in mentoring programs run by Big Brothers and Big Sisters, as well as various corporate contributions of money or services.

Powell's efforts may still be a drop in the barrel considering the need. And, true, the survey statistics also indicate a huge number of teenagers still inclined toward wrong decisions regarding relationships and still estranged from caring adults.

But the surveys suggest, too, that hope and progress have ample room to grow among the young. Of that, we have no doubt.

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