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America is having, we are told, one crisis after another with its children: a drug crisis, a teen pregnancy crisis, a dropout crisis, an under-achievement crisis, crises of violence and depression and children rearing children and ... the list goes on and on. There's one crisis, however, that everyone seems to be ignoring. Oprah hasn't even held one of her intellectual forums concerning it. I'm referring to the biggest crisis of all: that of just plain old irresponsibility.

After all, doesn't it all come down to that? Whether delinquency or drugs, pregnancy, dropping out, or just coasting through school, we're talking irresponsibility. A dearth, in other words, of character. A crisis of citizenship, values, proper moral instruction.

Everyone's talking about the symptoms and how we need to demand that the schools -- get that: the schools! -- address these issues more effectively, as if parents don't need to do anything for 18 years except twiddle their thumbs. But nobody's talking about the disease itself. Come to think of it, maybe nobody wants to address the real problem because deep down inside, in our secret heart, we all know the problem is us.

Take Nicole Bobek, for example. She's a lovely little figure skater who was recently crowned national champion, all of which means she's probably been pampered and pushed and pressured and petted to such an extent that she'll never have memories of her childhood because she hasn't had one. But that aside, it has come to light that on Nov. 2, 1994, Nicole unlawfully entered the home of a friend from the Detroit Skating Club and was allegedly in the process of collecting money when the friend's father came home and called the police. Nicole subsequently pleaded guilty to a felony charge of home invasion and was placed on two years probation. As is the case in juvenile matters, the records were sealed.

Someone, however, leaked information to the press. The judge then dismissed the charges and rescinded Nicole's probation on the grounds that her confidentiality had been breached. This does not, of course, mitigate that she was in fact guilty of felony home invasion.

Her lawyer, Michael Friedman, is incensed. According to him, Nicole is not a perpetrator, but a victim. What that makes the owners of the home Nicole unlawfully entered is anyone's best guess. Friedman is reported as having said that some villainous blackheart -- he suspects a former coach -- is trying to "sully Nicole's reputation."

Wait a second! Am I mistaken, or did Nicole Bobek not sully her very own reputation by illegally entering someone else's home? This child engages in criminal behavior that she is old enough to know is wrong and we are to feel sorry for her because her misdeed has become public? Friedman's indignation is straight out of "Alice Through The Looking Glass."

Nicole Bobek is 14. Despite her celebrity, she is a child. As such, and especially considering that the act was apparently uncharacteristic, she merits forgiveness. What isn't forgivable is Friedman's attempt to make her the victim. When the crime became public, and Nicole became humiliated, her lawyer and parents should have said, "Well, Nicole, that's the way the ball bounces. If you hadn't been where you didn't belong, none of this would be happening. We hope you've learned a valuable lesson."

Instead, she's treated like a poor, misunderstood darling. Her coach, Richard Callaghan, says the media's interest in her trespass is "unfair." Oh, really? Since when is it "unfair" to have to lie in a bed you have made?

Considering the positions taken by her counsel and coach, it should come as no surprise that Nicole, when asked for a comment, flippantly replied, "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was just a mistake." Is it me, or is that statement curiously devoid of shame, penitence, or even embarrassment?

You know, I'm beginning to feel like maybe I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. Are you?

Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at the Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 32188, Charlotte, N.C. 28232.

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