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Those younger than 18 have little cause to heed the exhortations and admonitions of someone older than 55 whom they’ve never met, but nonetheless, this one’s for the kids.

American adults collectively are hopeless. We are piloting this country into a mountainside. Wrongway Feldman flew straighter.

So, if you’re old enough to be drafted, vote or buy AR-15-style rifles legally, you’re welcome to read on, but, for God’s sake, keep quiet. This is for them.

Kids, it’s all on you. That’s a lot to throw at you. Life has so much to offer that many of you have not experienced. But the fact is the country’s a damn mess, and the adults made it that way. We say we’ll fix it, but we won’t. If any of you has a parent who promised to come home and didn’t for days, or never, it’s like that. We make promises we never mean to keep. We lie.

This is painful to hear, but you might as well get used to it now, if you haven’t already. Modern adults are like people who abuse things or others, whether it’s drugs or spouses or kids. We’ll ask you to forgive us, and then we’ll do the same damn thing again because it wasn’t forgiveness we sought but license.

Just because it’s all on you doesn’t mean you’re ready for it, that somehow by virtue of not being us you have all the right answers inherently. The fact is many of you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. That’s OK. It’s part of being a kid. But if you want to make a better country for yourselves, you’re going to have to start figuring it out now. If you wait until some prescribed time, it’ll be too late.

After all, the adults, the people shouting at each other like two parents arguing in the middle of the night, all of us were kids once, too. Many of us didn’t think much about the direction of the country then. Many of us enjoyed our childhoods the way you should be able to enjoy yours. But you can’t enjoy yours the way we did ours.

When I was a kid, nobody was shooting up schools. When I was a kid, if a classmate tapped that last raw nerve, the matter might be settled with fists but not with guns. It ordinarily amounted to five minutes of wild flailing and 20 minutes of abject cursing and a trip to the principal’s office. Frequently, you became friends with former foes. It doesn’t make sense now, but that’s how it worked.

Changes we needed never came. Inner cities were war zones then and still are today. The reach of gangs was spreading and now extends to every corner of the country. Being of color translated to a struggle for survival for many kids then and still means that for many of you now.

Some of us, living lives more sheltered than we imagined, deluded ourselves into thinking racism had been subdued. Those of us who thought this weren’t people of color. We lacked understanding. Courage can fail us, but ignorance never wanes.

Strange, terrible things happened as people my age progressed in adulthood. In twisted minds, classroom slights like those experienced by many people my age became cause to kill. Others kill now for the mere sake of it.

We are a country at once recognizable and unrecognizable, for familiar evils and those never fathomed.

Coursing beneath this is the swift undercurrent of decline across a wide spectrum of measures, not the least of which are education, critical thinking and an authentic sense of right and wrong. We are a nation of narcissists with no concept of a greater good beyond our own.

If this country’s going to be righted, you’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to discipline yourselves the way my generation and others’ didn’t. You’re going to have to learn, value and exercise logic and reason. You’re going to have to speak civilly with one another, with people of different races, backgrounds, ideologies and ways of life. You’re going to have to communicate in person rather than on social media. To hell with social media.

You’re going to have to think. That’s something adults don’t do anymore. We despise thinking.

The adults around you, here and across the country, aren’t evolving. We’re devolving. You’re going to have to be far better than we are. You’re going to have to be far stronger, not physically but in ways that matter, emotionally and mentally. You’re going to have to be smarter and wiser.

Otherwise, bad times await. If they come, it won’t be your fault. We made the mess you’re inheriting. But bad times would be your reality just the same. You are the last hope for a nation adrift. We adults don’t deserve better. But you do.

Lee Wolverton is vice president of news of HD Media LLC and executive editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email address is lwolverton@hdmediallc.com.

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