More than a million American teenagers run away from home every year. Their parents are often puzzled and hurt. Why do they do it?
There’s usually a lack of understanding on both sides – parents and child – problems in communication.
More than half of these runaways are girls. Their average age is fifteen. For one reason or another, they refuse to stay at home. Of course, the great majority of young people never run away from home. Nevertheless, the problem is a serious one. There is no ‘typical’ runaway, though. Many come from homes broken by divorce or homes where there is an alcoholic parent. Some run from parents who beat them. But there are also many runaways who come from seemingly healthy homes where no such problems exist.
Steve, aged 15, ran away when he was 13. His father drank, and everyone in the family suffered when he got drunk. One night his father grabbed a gun and, with his finger on the trigger, threatened to kill everyone in the family. Steve ran away – and stayed away. His chief concern was to get enough food and a safe, dry place to sleep.
‘It’s frightening to be homeless because you don’t know about tomorrow,’ Steve says. ‘Everything you have is on your back. You wonder where you are going to eat or live. You don’t know if you’ll be all right.’
Sharon’s parents are divorced, but she says she had no real problems at home. She lived in a small town in Vermont. One evening she was watching TV when a friend rang up.
‘We’re going to New York. Want to come along?’ Sharon – 14 years old – hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders and agreed. When the police finally traced her, she had become a drug addict.
Unfortunately, these young people often run into trouble. Few runaways have any idea of how to get along in the lonely and often dangerous world they find after leaving home.
Most take off with only a few dollars in their pockets. When this is spent they find it is not easy to make money if you are only fifteen or sixteen years old. It’s useless for them to look for a proper job, because legally they are too young to get a job.
The police say that most runaways return home within a few days. Often a phone call is enough to patch things up.
However, the longer a runaway is away, the more likely he or she is to get into trouble. One set of problems is often replaced by another. Runaways often think that they will find friendly people willing to help them out. But the sad fact is that cities are full of people on the lookout for runaways, who only want to take advantage of them.
On the street, there are four main means of survival: begging, stealing, prostitution and drug dealing. It’s like a quicksand: the deeper in you go, the deeper down you sink. Sometimes, inevitably, it leads to suicide.
There are a lot of charity organizations which try to protect street children. But unfortunately, the number of teen runaways is rising and the kids are getting younger.