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CRUISING THE DRIVE-INS was a pleasant rite of passage in the 1950s. Look cool. Rack the pipes. See and be seen. Waitresses in short shorts. Malts, fries, cherry Cokes and burgers - real burgers.

Boys without dates tried to impress the waitresses. Boys with dates pretended to not know the same waitress they had asked out in six ways the night before.An above-average girl I used to date had an above-average understanding of drive-in culture. She thought the preening, pipe-racking and ogling was a shameless display of pseudo-masculinity, which is why boys don't like to date girls smarter than they are. You can't put anything past them.

After a waitress attached the tray and asked for our order, my date would lean forward, lock eyes with the waitress and ask, "Do you have any scruples?"

Inevitably, the waitress would pause a moment before she said something like, "Naw, honey. I never heard of them." Satisfied, my date would then go ahead with her order. Point made.

That little exercise didn't score any points with me. I knew the waitress had plenty of scruples, at least enough that she wouldn't go out with me. The waitress didn't hesitate deciding what was right, proper and ethical. She just didn't know the definition of the word.

Young people today probably aren't any worse when it comes to knowing the definition of words such as scruples, morals and values than we were back in the days of Ozzie and Harriet. But I feel confident that many more of today's youngsters don't come equipped with the same internal moral compasses that guided previous generations.

While overall crime is down in the United States, senseless, violent crime by remorseless children is shooting upward. Experts predict that juvenile crime will skyrocket when a population bubble of youngsters gets old enough to lift a gun.

The difference between the juvenile delinquency in "Rebel Without a Cause" and today's youth crime is the difference between expected teenage rebelliousness and armed predators who don't know right from wrong.

The trend in violent youth crime tracks nicely with the rise in divorce rates and the breakup of traditional families. The ties that bind are coming undone in families, neighborhoods, schools, churches and social organizations.

The good news is that practically every adult American now admits there is a problem.

Self-discipline must be coupled with empathy, according to the experts, to successfully implant a moral compass in a child. Self-discipline is a learned skill. The best way to teach self-discipline is acceptance and warmth, firmness and respect for autonomy. The best way to kill this necessary ingredient in the formation of a moral child is with rejection, leniency and control - so say the experts.

Come to think of it, the ideal parenting discovered by decades of research sounds pretty much like normal parenting back in the 1950s when kids had scruples and didn't even know it.