While leaving the Regal Cinemas on Elmwood Avenue one Friday night, my boyfriend and I were approached by a tall, blond teenage girl asking for cash. We said "sorry, no," and felt guilty seeing her momentarily despairing expression as we walked away. My guilt turned to annoyance, however, when five minutes later in the adjacent Target parking lot we were once more approached by a different teenager, again asking for money.
Neither of the girls had a "story" -- their car didn't break down, they didn't need bus fare -- and both were warmly dressed in heavy, fashionable parkas, complete with hats, gloves and scarves. No dire straits anywhere to be seen. They were simply two teens, begging.
The following day, I told my mom about these encounters and she gasped, "I just gave a few dollars to a girl in the Target parking lot. I was duped." She hadn't imagined for a minute that the girl was begging, which is just what the teens are banking on.
This wasn't the first time I'd been approached. Over the summer in the same lot, I saw two tan, shirtless boys and two short-skirted girls approaching strangers as I entered the store. It was a curious sight, and a half hour later, shopping completed, I watched with interest as a soccer mom argued with one of the girls: "I'll let you use my cell phone to call your parents, but I'm not giving you money."
"But my parents aren't home," the girl playfully whined.
Meanwhile, further ahead, a middle-aged couple handed the other girl a few dollars. When one of the boys from the group approached me, I said "no," before he had a chance to begin talking.
"You're not very nice," he said.
I've been thinking of those kids and my reaction to them ever since. These two latest encounters make me wonder again at my lack of sympathy. Is it because these kids are obviously not hard on luck? Although I'm their elder by maybe 10 years, I can still spot youthful privilege when I see it.
And I resent their whole scheme. Why bother working when you can use your class, race and good looks to get money from strangers instead? I realize every new generation will continually look at the ones that follow it as less thoughtful, less concerned and less morally refined. But doesn't this seem like a new low?
After all, these aren't dumb kids. The parking lots they've chosen are continually busy and relatively safe places, most likely far from their own neighborhoods so there's little chance they'll be recognized by say, their cheerleading coach or best friend's parents. In essence, these teens are a waste of potential and ingenuity. If they were out there begging for the Salvation Army I'd be applauding them, but why help others when you can help yourself?
I'm not discounting that these begging teens could be suffering from serious issues at home, but I'll bet it's not the biggies, definitely not poverty or hunger. Instead they're most likely victims of the standard overstressed parents, who keep insane work schedules to give their kids the best of everything and then neglect giving them the most important gift of all, attention.
Whether this is a game for these kids or an indicator of a bad home life, something needs to be done -- by Regal and Target, certainly, but more so by today's parents.