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I was trying to get some inspiration for a birthday present for my wife, so I wandered into Boswell's Party Supply Store -- one of my favorite places to shop for special occasions.

I thought I might surprise her with one of those grass skirt and coconut halter kits.

The next thing I knew, I was in casual conversation with Luke Boswell, who owns all four of these great local stores and who somehow manages to keep track of that amazingly entertaining and eclectic inventory.

One of Luke's challenges is finding qualified help, and he shares my belief that teenagers in this area just don't seem to need money enough to want to work.

When Luke and I were both young, there were lawns to mow, snow to shovel and paper routes to traipse around. We did it all.

Why is any of this a concern to those of us approaching retirement? Well, we're not that different from the Chinese, whose culture embodies a respect for elders and the responsibility of children to take care of aging parents.

It happens a little less in this country now, because family generations don't always live in the same towns anymore. However, to the extent that it happens at all, the ability of children to be fiscally responsible and financially stable later in life has its roots in their work experience as teenagers.

Nobody knows for certain what effect that sea change will have, but it definitely will create at least some additional opportunity for employment. Many of those jobs will be out in the fresh air and will be great for getting in shape. The question is one of whether or not parents will step up to the plate and encourage their children to take these jobs.

The path of least resistance is to assume that sports are already too time consuming, or that working for pay will cut into homework time.

Anyone who has no television could probably make that case, but for the rest of us, an insistence on working is probably doing our youngsters a favor.

Apart from just the satisfaction of earning money, there is the cross-pollination of cultures in lower-skilled job markets that can contribute to anyone's general understanding of the human condition.

My son spent a summer living and working at an apple orchard with Jamaican workers who had been coming legally to New Hampshire every year for more than 20 years.

In my case, my Army experience was the first true experience of working with people from all walks of life -- as opposed to just hanging out with friends headed for college or in college up to that point.

If the ability to learn languages easily begins shutting down by age 16, the pattern of meeting expectations on a job are probably harder to pattern after the end of the teenage years.

For the sake of our retirement, it would help to have children who understand early that work can be unpleasant, but you just have to do it. That's why it's called "work."

My father, on his occasional visits from Florida, likes to stroll around our reasonably-spacious, ranch-style home that's all on one floor and say, "Boy, this place is going to be great for (me) when I need assisted living." Well, he's welcome when the time comes, and I can afford it thanks to the habit formed by my paper route years ago and those lawns I used to mow.

As for my wife's birthday present, I was just overwhelmed by too many choices at Boswell's and headed for the jewelry store.

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