the lost children of rockdale county
Press Reaction
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The Dallas Morning News Manuel Mendoza

"...Shocking and explicit without sensationalizing, 'The Lost Children' is filled with frank talk from parents, educators, health workers and articulate teens. While it explores many possible explanations, the 90-minute documentary never tries to pin blame on any particular factor, be it peer pressure or parental indifference.

In fact, the film is all the more powerful because it fails to come up with a simple answer or any signs that the situation has changed. Despite the publicity surrounding the syphilis outbreak, including community meetings, most teenagers in Rockdale County have never heard of it, the Goodmans conclude.

Devastating honesty marks not only the interviews with the kids, but also the ones with their parents, some of whom readily admit to both spoiling and neglecting their children, the former often a method of the latter...

'The Lost Children' mentions the shooting at Heritage High School that put Conyers on the 'troubled teen' map, but the Goodmans were wise not to abandon the incredible story they had started to gather for the one that captured headlines.

It's probably too much to hope for, but their film deserves that kind of national attention."

The Atlanta Constitution  Drew Jubera

"...Tonight's chilling 'Frontline' presentation centers on the binge decadence of suburban high school kids outside Atlanta.

The 90-minute documentary, which includes explicit sexual descriptions that might startle some viewers, plays like a real-life companion to the new film ' American Beauty': a dark-side tour behind the suburbanscape that once defined the American dream, but which a recent trail of school shootings has reconstructed for some into an updated version of the American nightmare...

What emerges from tonight's emotional travelogue is a dark, darkly heart- breaking terrain --- a kind of neutron-bombed community where houses are intact but families are shattered. Careerist parents work long hours to provide kids with material wealth, but give up on giving the contact and structure they need. Kids turn their lack of direction into a mandate to veer out of control...

The last third provides some of the film's most disturbing images --- three young girls use their stuffed toy animals to demonstrate the complex couplings of group sex. But it also underscores the documentary's weakness. Teens here are either sex-mad or devoutly Christian virgins. How the forces of these extremes affect those in the vast, confusing middle is left mostly unexplored.

Still, the overall effect is so disturbing it's as hard to imagine parents not rushing afterward to talk with their teens as it is hard to imagine their teens not talking back. 'The Lost Children of Rockdale County' demonstrates just how rare that would be."

The Boston Globe  John Koch

"...The 90-minute documentary is a curious affair, at once deeply provocative and maddeningly tentative and superficial. 'What's wrong with our children?' the program's narrator asks, before promoting a probing account of 'lonely kids desperate to belong.'

But the kids on camera, some of whom were in high school during the publicized syphilis outbreak and another, younger cohort, aren't especially revealing. They talk blandly about their risky behavior but rarely in forthcoming detail or with any depth of insight. One popular girl says that sex isn't pleasurable, just an expected aspect of socializing. Better documentarians might have managed to prompt her to elaborate on this rueful admission...

By more subtly, patiently drawing out their interview subjects, the filmmakers would have been able to shed more light on Conyers's disturbing problems and their tangled social roots and national implications. 'The Lost Children of Rockdale County,' which falls short of the usually high standards of 'Frontline,' frames a subject of enormous social importance, but doesn't mine its depths."

Chicago Tribune  Steve Johnson

"...A wrenching chronicle of teenage disaffection and ennui that leads to self-destructive behavior and desperate maneuvers for attention, it makes the way NBC uses the phrase "must-see TV" seem a mockery. It is also a welcome reminder of the special thing that is "Frontline.". . .

The details are in the program, and they are shocking enough. Seeing a young-looking high school freshman talk about losing her virginity in a one-night stand before becoming a teenager is something you don't easily forget, nor the image of a group of kids watching, and acting out, the doings on Playboy Channel. The chart health officials drew up of the group's tangled sexual partnerships looked, as one woman says, like a ball of yarn. . .

Drugs and alcohol served as social lubricants for the kids, yes. But "Frontline" seems to locate much of the problem in some failure of modern parenting. The program is too intelligent to fail to recognize the inherent hardships of raising teens, especially in light of the massive social pressures and a cultural climate with very conflicted views of morality.

But it keeps coming back to the suggestion of parents who are too tired, too ignorant or too needy themselves to offer the necessary diligence and discipline. . .

As the film moves beyond the outbreak itself, it offers up solid examples of how the kids seemed, mostly, to be searching for meaning and are still having a hard time finding it. A Christian rock band briefly drew a following among kids who weren't necessarily Christians, and the kids who found a way to reconnect with their parents come off as the least shattered of all those interviewed.

By the end of harrowing and instructive programs, some of the things a trio of girls who weren't part of the outbreak say make you think Conyers, and all the American places like it, is just a few condoms away from it happening all over again. Bullets get the headlines, but there are less deadly ways kids express their alienation."

The Orange County Register  Kinney Littlefield

"...Producers Rachel Dretzin Goodman and Barak Goodman talk to many teens in the course of their scathing 90-minute documentary -- most scathing in its indictment of neglectful, weak-minded parents.

On camera the teens they interviewed sound desperate for rules and values. Those involved in the sex clique did so to fill a vacuum, they say. Money did not make their lives less hollow.

Most disconcerting of all is an interview with a well-heeled mother...who says she simply gave up all control of her troubled kids. It was just too hard.

Truly, the parents seem to be the "Lost Children" in this unsettling program -- another commendable view from the remarkably consistent Frontline."

Entertainment Weekly

"...A documentary that's the stuff of parents' nightmares: well-off suburban Georgia teenagers indulging in group sex, binge drinking, and drugging, all without Mom and Dad's knowledge. An outbreak of syphilis affecting 200 teens finally exposes the nonstop nefariousness. After a lengthy investigation the filmmakers conclude that the kids were bored, they wanted to be cool, their parents were asleep at the discipline wheel. At once shocking and obvious. B+"

The Wall Street Journal   Barbara D. Phillips

"...a haunting Frontline documentary produced by Rachel Dretzin Goodman and Barak Goodman, shows that neglectful parents and troubled teens can be found even in the most comfortable neighborhoods. Think of it as a real-life "Rebel Without a Cause," updated for the more sordid '90s and set in a shiny new section of the Bible Belt, 25 miles east of Atlanta.

In 1996, in the months before the Summer Olympics, a syphilis outbreak hit Rockdale County and its only town, Conyers, Ga. Kathleen Toomey, of the state's Division of Public Health, says "it focused around a group of young girls . . . some of them 13 years of age." Seventeen teenagers tested positive, while more than 200 others were treated for exposure. About 50 reported engaging in group sex and other "extreme sexual behavior." Their parents worked long hours, and most of the drinking, the drugging and the sex parties took place between 3p.m. and 7p.m. and after midnight. . .

The Goodmans deny us the comforting fiction of an uplifting ending, as did head-line-grabbing events in Conyers this May. One month after Columbine, a boy opened fire at Heritage High, one of the county's three high schools. He seemed like a "normal kid," classmates said.

Instead, the filmmakers end with the exasperated and exasperating comments of parents who have given up the fight for their children's souls. "I just feel you're helpless" to counteract the social pressure, says a father whose daughter succumbed. "There's just no way to do it. You got to be accepted somewhere."

The Orlando Sentinel  Hal Boedeker

"...A strong candidate for most shocking program of the year, 'The Lost Children of Rockdale County' recounts true stories of wayward teens, sex parties and a syphilis outbreak in Georgia.

Many program would give this lurid material breathless, exaggerated treatment. PBS' Frontline takes a somber, low-key approach appropriate for such a depressing topic. The 90-minute documentary ought to provoke family discussions about sex, self-esteem and values...

Rather than look for scapegoats--such as the ever-popular TV violence--the program illustrates how several forces are affecting teens in Conyers, the only town in Rockdale County...

Frontline takes pains to note the story doesn't represent all the teens in Conyers. Fast-growing Rockdale County, east of Atlanta, sends 85 percent of its high school grads on to higher education...

But the syphilis outbreak in 1996--17 youngsters tested positive and 200 more were exposed--revealed teen despair, loneliness and confusion. It was a situation that parents had difficulty accepting."

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