A seemingly minor incident happened this week, which left me thoughtful.

I was in the city with my younger daughter. We needed to swing into a post office to mail a letter. The post office had a dedicated lane in its parking lot for cars to drive up to the mailboxes. The street was busy so I needed to swing into the parking lot quickly, not slowly … except I couldn’t, because two teenage boys were walking across the driveway.

Well, can’t be helped. They were there first, after all, and pedestrians have the right of way.

Except they wouldn’t move. They deliberately stopped and just stood in my way, so that my car stayed half in the street, blocking traffic.

After a few moments one of the boys moved, but the other started walking toward the car as if daring me to run him over. He wasn’t being threatening or dangerous. He was just being a jerk.

I managed to pull the car to one side and nip past him, and that was that. I mailed my letter and drove away. In my rearview mirror I saw them laugh. The incident left me fuming.

The boys were the typical teenagers we often see these days – slouching, insolent, eyes half closed in a perpetual sneer at life. The one boy’s reaction to my presence – I dare you to run me over – was spontaneous and arrogant.

“If this is the future of America,” noted my 13-year-old daughter, “we’re doomed.”

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My anger turned to sadness and concern. Multiply these boys by millions, and you do indeed have the future of America. These boys had no sense of social courtesy, no understanding of civic consideration and apparently no desire to obtain either. Get a bunch of these types of kids together, and the situation is ripe for flash mobs and other social chaos.

I realize this sounds like the classic fuddy-duddy generation-gap thing, but in point of fact I’m not the only one to note the changing face of young people in our society. Fifty years ago, manners and courtesy were drilled into children from infancy. That practice began its decline in the ’60s, and it’s been downhill from there.

What causes young people to become insolent unsocial misfits, unable to function properly in society? The blame arguably can be placed in multiple arenas: public schools, peer pressure, Hollywood, electronics, too much material wealth, too little personal responsibility, etc.

But ultimately, parents are the main reason our country’s young people are an embarrassment rather than a pride and joy. Parents are the ones sending their children to public schools where they are adversely affected by peer pressure. Parents are the ones buying personal electronics and other unearned material acquisitions. Parents are the ones not correcting their pre-teens when they fail to show respect or display manners. Parents are the ones permitting teenagers to mouth off. Parents, in short, are still the primary influence on their children … and children are a reflection of their parents.

So how does this impact our future?

Consider this. My mother knows a deli owner who has, in the last year, hired 50 people to work for him … and fired 47 of them. The reasons included not showing up to work on time, being rude to customers and theft. (They were robbing him blind.)

My youngest brother is facing a similar situation. He owns a specialized electrical contracting business and has a job opening for at least one person. My brother gives his workers benefits, perks and a generous salary – but he can’t find anyone to hire. Reasons range from applicants having a sloppy work ethic to not showing up to work on time to (yes, once again) stealing his tools and equipment before disappearing.

Right now the media is lamenting the staggeringly high unemployment rate among young people. Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, claims, “There’s evidence that shows this generation is more prepared and harder working than previous ones.”

If he’s looking at statistics such as the number of people getting college degrees, then yes, he may be right. But what he’s not looking at are the number of young people whom employers would prefer to boot across the room instead of hiring.

So at what point does a high unemployment rate intersect with a bad work ethic? I’m guessing the young men we saw in the parking lot won’t be high on the hiring list because of their attitude.

It’s a tough economy, and it’s going to get tougher. The people most likely to get hired are those possessing not just the minimal qualifications, but the attitude and work ethic to make them shine.

I know lots of polite, well-mannered teens who do their parents credit. These kids aren’t making headlines. Instead, they going quietly about their lives, making good choices and growing into decent adults. On their shoulders, I hope, the future of our nation will rest.

But what about the kids in the parking lot? These boys will also grow up, but they are far less likely to become productive members of society. Instead, they are likely to be a problem the other kids will have to grow up and deal with.

Thankfully nothing prevents those slouching, insolent boys from realizing the errors of their ways, turning their lives around and growing into fine young men. But I’m not holding my breath.

In the end this may all sort itself out by default. The government will run out of money. Parents will become unable or unwilling to support their adult children. Without subsidization from either their parents or the government, young people who sneer their way through life will find themselves not only unemployed, but unmarketable at all levels. Then and only then, may they grow up.

Parents, save yourselves – and your children – the hassle. Step up to the plate and make sure the generation entrusted to your care doesn’t turn out like the slugs I saw this week.

Unless, of course, you like the reflection they show you.

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