WHY would an eighteen-year-old girl want to give up life in a thirty-room mansion for one among dirty, vermin-ridden slum tenements? Why would she want to flee from a life where she had everything in a material way to one where she had nothing, even having to panhandle for food? Many adults find it difficult to understand, but many young people do not.
This girl was only one of a great number of young people who have run away from wealthy or middle-class homes to live in squalor. Estimates for the United States put the figure at more than one million runaways, about 90 percent coming from such homes.
Young runaways give a number of reasons for having left home. The home situation seemed intolerable, with lack of understanding and communication between parents and their children. Some of the youths had bad grades at school and were under pressure from their parents to do well to uphold the reputation of the family in the neighborhood. Not feeling able to face up to school exams in the month of May or to return to school in September, they decided to run away. These seem to be the peak months in the United States for the number of runaway youths.
Another reason for running away is the hypocrisy of parents who talk about living by high ideals but who do not actually do so themselves. This becomes too much for many young people who say they believe in telling it as it is.
Still another reason is lack of parental love. One teen-age boy remarked that his father spent all his life “making sure we have the things that warm us outside, but he’s never had time to give us the things that warm us inside.” It is common for executive fathers to be so preoccupied with their businesses that they have little or no time for their children. Is that true in your home? Their wives may also be busy with personal interests, attending bridge parties and socials, engaging in civic activities, and so forth. The children seldom see their parents and are actually reared by the maid. When old enough they are likely to be sent off to a boarding school.
This happened to a fourteen-year-old girl. In time she ran away from the boarding school where her wealthy parents had put her. When she was picked up by the police and told that they had to notify her parents, she was distressed. She said, “Wait until you see them.” Finally the parents arrived at the police station wearing full-dress evening clothes. They manifested no affection for her but threatened to put her in a boarding school with higher walls if she tried to run away again. The girl looked at the policemen as if to say, “What did I tell you?”
One runaway boy said that he simply could not agree with his parents’ view of life. He said: “I know more of what is important or what is of value than my parents do. They are waving flags and talking about going off to war and killing other humans, but I know that is wrong. They can’t see that I am right on this issue. So I don’t have anything to do with them. I have gone looking for people who agree with me.”
Children who run away usually say that they do not hate their parents. They may say they are deeply sorry that they are hurting them, but they just do not want the kind of life that they have left behind. Does leaving home improve their lot in life?
Do Runaways Find Happiness?
Instead of finding a new, free society where everyone shows love, runaway youths more often than not find violence, thievery, deception, loneliness and disease. In areas such as the East Village of New York city there are people who prey upon them for selfish reasons. Some come from other parts of the city for this purpose. There are other youths who may pretend to be friends of the runaways and get them involved in the use of drugs if they are not already taking drugs. They are not real friends.
An eighteen-year-old boy who got “hooked” on drugs wrote: “I have used all types of drugs, from hash, pot, acid to hard stuff. It’s all a bad scene. . . . All you are doing is ruining your life and letting people make money through you. They are only using you. . . . These friends of yours will offer stuff free, then start making you pay for it. Then they sell you harder stuff at discount prices, then boost the prices up when they got you hooked. Remember, the same person or friend who has grass [marijuana] will also be able to push heroin to you, and for what? To make money for himself while he destroys you.”
In the slums of big cities runaway children do not find the love they may have imagined that they would find. instead they find a tough and sinister place. The eighteen-year-old girl mentioned earlier left a thirty-room mansion to live in the East Village of New York city. She was found one morning lying naked in a filthy, tenement cellar with her head smashed to a pulp.
A thirteen-year-old runaway girl was wandering on the streets of the East Village when she was approached by two young men. They took her to a room on the fifth floor of a dirty tenement building. Once in the room they stripped her and raped her. In a frantic effort to flee from her attackers she climbed out a bathroom window and fell to her death.
For a place to sleep a runaway girl usually must be willing to pay with sex. A boy may have to satisfy a homosexual. Many find no place to stay and have to sleep on the streets. The situation at home may have been bad, but would you say that what these young folks found when they ran away was better?
A blond girl of seventeen who ran away from her home in the midwestern United States and came to New York’s East Village said: “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have run away from home. This is an ugly place.” A nineteen-year-old runaway girl said that the East Village “is a terrible place. You’re going to be raped or become a prostitute or get hung on drugs.”
Expressing regrets for having run away, a girl who finally did go home after two years found her mother in a mental institution. The girl said: “She had had a nervous breakdown about a year after I left, and she will never get out of the sick home she’s in. She doesn’t know me or any of the family anymore. Now I’ll never be able to tell her I love her and I’m sorry for what I did. My father has aged twenty years, and he stays drunk all the time. I have nothing now. . . . What a mess I’ve made out of my life, and I’m only twenty.”
Are you a runaway who is finding yourself with reasons for regrets, as most runaways do? Are there times when you wish you were back home? Your parents no doubt share that wish. Why not contact them by letter or phone, or through a relative? Also, there are counseling agencies in most areas where runaway youths can go. These agencies will no doubt be willing to help you. They believe that reconciliation is possible if young folks and their parents are willing to talk over their differences and both make efforts for improvement.
You may think that homelife was not so good, but, if you return, you do not have to go with the thought that it will be no different from what it was. There is something positive you can do: Try to improve the situation. As we will see, there is much that you can do. And it is well worth the effort.
Parents Need to Do Their Part
But what if you are a parent and it is your child who has run away from home? One of your first concerns should be: What can you do to improve the situation at home so that your child will want to return? If you really want your son or daughter back, consider that matter seriously and make the needed changes in your life. Then when you finally do get in contact with your child, you will have something to offer in the way of improvement.
Perhaps your children have not run away. Nevertheless, if you feel that some changes ought to be made in your homelife, now is the time to do it.
What are some of the things that can be done to improve the home situation? In many cases involving runaways, it has been found that the parents took no time for their children in a personal way; they did not listen to the children’s problems. Has that been true in your home?
Commenting on the matter of runaway children in Mexico, an assistant police chief observed: “Parents should watch and care for their children better, and they should not think that because they give them clothes, and food, and because they pay for their schooling they have fulfilled all their obligations.”
It would be worth your while to examine as to whether you have been so occupied with business activities or other personal interests that you have given very little time in a personal way to your children. If you find this to be true, would it not be sensible to reduce the activities that have crowded your life? Would it not be better to spend more time in getting to know your children and in guiding and counseling them?
Have you really been willing to listen to the problems of your children? Some parents try to avoid it, putting their children off by saying, “Some other time.” There is the case of a boy who wanted to have a talk with his father, but his father said, ‘I’ll talk with you after supper.’ After supper he postponed it to still another time, and so on. He did not actually want to listen to what was troubling his son. Did he, then, have reason to be surprised when his son ran away? Communicating with your children is essential.
If you are a father, to communicate with your son you do not have to pretend you are equals. You are not. You are father and son, an unequal relationship. It is a relationship in which the son expects you to exercise authority. One youth said: “I have all the friends I need. I don’t want another friend; I want a father.”
Your moral standards and principles are something to examine, too. Saying one thing but doing another is not going to draw your children to you. Hypocrisy repels sincere youngsters. Will you not gain greater respect from your children if you follow the course of good moral conduct that you expect of them? But even this is not enough. You need to teach your children what a good standard of morals is and why it is for their good to live by it. Too many parents fail to do this.
Have you considered teaching your children the moral standard of the Bible? Did you know that the steps that authorities are finding most effective in dealing with the problem of runaway children were long ago recommended in the Bible? For instance, it urges parents to communicate regularly with their children. (Deut. 6:6, 7; Prov. 6:20-22) It also emphasizes the father’s authority in his relationship with his children. (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:7) It supplies the moral guidance that both parents and young folks need. By applying its counsel and principles, many parents have been able to unite their family in a way that could never be achieved before. Why not prove this to be true in your life?
What Children Can Do
If you are a youth who is disillusioned with the way things are at home and you want a different way of life and have thought about running away, ask yourself: ‘What can I do to improve the situation at home?’ You can make some constructive contributions. For example, you can tell your parents what is in your heart. Perhaps you will find some response. At least it is worth trying. And when you do speak with them, bear in mind that there may be somewhat of a language gap. So try to use words and expressions that they are familiar with and understand, not ones that carry special meaning only to young people. Also, attempt to cooperate. If it seems that you are poles apart in your efforts and goals, you will have to compromise some if any progress is to be made.
It may seem easier to run away than to try to improve a difficult situation at home. But really, you cannot be running away from difficult situations all your life! There comes a time when every person must face up to conditions and work to improve them. For example, if you get married and have a family, then you will have responsibilities. If problems arise, are you going to quit and run away? That would be neither legal nor loving, would it? So sometime you must learn to cope with difficulties. Why not start now? It will prepare you for facing life as it really is.
Then, too, there is a matter of the law. According to law, your parents are responsible for you until you come of age or until such time as they agree that you can leave home. Just as they have a responsibility toward you, you have a reciprocal obligation to them—to show them respect. You owe it to them. This is the law, not only of man, but also of God.—Col. 3:20; Eph. 6:1-3.
Obedience to your parents is basically to your benefit. In many ways it has been to your benefit so far. Think of all that your parents have done for you since you were born. Think too of those who have run away from home and what they so often speak of—regrets. True, when you come of age, you may decide to leave home. But why not wait till you are of legal age? And then if you decide to leave home, do not sneak out the back door. Let your intentions be known. Cooperate with your parents, and they will likely cooperate with you.
One of the reasons why you have found life to be difficult is that the whole system of things is wicked. The Bible clearly shows that, and the facts of life agree with it. Another basic reason is that there has been general failure to learn and apply the principles of the Creator, as given in the Bible, to the problems of everyday life.
Whether you are living at home or are off on your own, you are faced with those same circumstances. You cannot run away from them. But you can come to grips with them by learning what the Bible teaches; and Jehovah’s witnesses will be glad to provide you with personal help free of charge. From the Bible you can learn the real reason for life, and what it is that brings genuine contentment. You can learn of the marvelous purpose that the Creator has for mankind and how it will be realized in this generation. Thousands who have faced the same kind of problems that you do have found the answers in this way. We urge you to do the same.