11/12/2007 10:23 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Are We Doing to Our Children?

As if we haven't screwed up our own "adult" world enough, we're making a mess for our kids.

African children with distended stomachs and bony limbs, scrawny babies dying in their mother's arms, Iraqi boys playing on heaps of war rubble, Palestinian youths toying with rifles, kids amputated by landmines, and mutilated infants in hospitals -- we've seen it all, but who cares?

A few people do care. Oprah Winfrey opened a school for South African girls. That dream has now been rocked by a terrible scandal.

A French humanitarian group recently decided to grab 103 kids from war-torn Chad -- allegedly orphans -- and place them in foster homes in France. The organizers of that scheme have been arrested and face charges of kidnapping.

And there are the weird cases that have no motive but personal gratification, such as the sex-sick Canadian who was simultaneously teaching and molesting children in Asia. He was finally caught by Interpol. And here in America, a teacher runs off to Mexico with one of her students -- a 13-year old boy. This is robbing the cradle with a sinister new twist.

What's happening? What is going wrong? Why can't we even guarantee that children -- the most innocent among us -- grow up healthy and whole?

American children, whether growing up in poverty or in wealth, tend to be ignored or indulged, or both simultaneously. A vast number go to sub-standard schools, millions have no medical insurance, and all were simply lucky to have survived beyond birth. (It's a fact that America has the second worst infant mortality rate in the developed world.)

Yet our kids have television, iPods, cell phones, computers, and video games. They are exposed to violence, real and virtual, every day. They are expected to "make it" in the world, but have little or no guidance. The majority are raised in broken homes, or single-parent homes, or reconstituted families.

Granted, the traditional mom-and-pop family is not a perfect, foolproof model for raising perfect, happy children. But until something better comes along, it's the best we have. And it has to be bolstered by good education and a safe, nurturing environment. That is what Oprah and the French abductors had in mind. But you can't administer a school from the other side of the world, and you can't pluck children from their embattled homeland and deliver them to strangers.

Maybe it's a case of good intentions gone awry, simply through idealism or naivete. Maybe it's brought on by exasperation and frustration with "the system," because our governments fail to address and resolve these problems. But in this crazy world, we have to be very careful that our good deeds rest on intelligent planning, moral principles, legal rectitude, and close surveillance.

We talk a lot about the kind of world we should be leaving our children. More important: What kind of world are we offering them right now?