Young People Ask . . .
Is Running Away the Answer?
IN THE novel Tom Sawyer, author Mark Twain tells of the time that Tom ran away from home with his two closest friends, Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn. The three boys stole away at midnight, going by raft to an island on the far side of the river. There they spent the better part of a week, living off provisions they had brought with them and fish that they caught. Soon they became spectators to the scene of the townsmen searching the river for their “drownded” bodies. Finally, Tom, Joe, and Huck sneaked back to town, hid in the church gallery, and witnessed their own funeral service. The episode ended with them happily reunited with family and friends, and showered with kisses and thanksgivings.
For Tom, Joe, and Huck, running away was a spirited adventure with a happy ending. It was fun. But that is not the case for most youngsters who run away today. “For many runaways, trouble is a typical description of life off the road,” says Margaret O. Hyde in her book My Friend Wants to Run Away. “A few runaways actually get jobs and make it on their own. But, for most of them, life is worse than it was before they left home.”
Perhaps you feel that you will be the exception. Surely, things will be better than the situation that exists at home. Amy thought so. She ran away at 14 years of age because she lacked a close relationship with her parents and could not talk to them. “I felt that there was no one who would understand me,” she says. “I felt that being away from my parents and going to a ‘friend’s’ house would be better. I was sure my ‘friend’ would listen.”
Sandi, abandoned by her mother and molested by her foster grandfather, ran away at age 12. Peggy left home at 16. “I’ve had a lot of pressure at home,” she says. “My mom would yell at me a lot and call me bad names.” Her mom made her feel unwanted and unloved, “as if she wishes I wasn’t born or something.” Unable to talk to her mother without an argument and constantly being put down and made fun of, she ran away to search for happiness elsewhere.
Julie took off because for several years she had been sexually abused at home. Danny left twice. The first time was to escape a stepmother who said bad things about him. He soon realized how difficult it was outside without a means of support, so he returned home—only to get in a vicious argument and be rejected by his father as well. Both Julie and Danny were only 12 years old.
Yes, life at home for many runaways seems unbearable. They want to get away from it. They want to be free. “But teens don’t find freedom on the streets,” notes ’Teen magazine. “Instead, they find other runaways or throwaways—like themselves—living in abandoned buildings, where they have no protection from rapists or muggers. They also find a lot of people who make it their dirty business to exploit young people, and teenage runaways are an easy target.”
What Usually Happens
Amy’s “friend,” for example, a 22-year-old male, had her pay for her stay “by having sex with him and nine of his friends.” She also “got drunk and took lots of drugs.” Sandi became a prostitute, living on the streets and sleeping on park benches or wherever she could. They are typical of many runaways. Why does it happen that way?
“When a child first runs away, he may have a few bucks in his pocket, he may even have saved some money, but once it runs out, he has few options,” states Sergeant Jose Elique, former director of New York’s Port Authority Runaway Squad Police. “When the kids get hungry, they have to eat, and when they get cold, they have to find shelter, so they really don’t have too many alternatives. If someone happens to approach them when they’re really hungry and down and out and asks them to do something—it could be any number of illegal or degrading immoral acts, for money or drugs—then this child will be much more receptive, no matter how he may have felt about sex and drugs before.”
Most runaways have few salable skills. They find modern society just too hard and complicated to deal with. Neither do they usually have any of the necessary paperwork to get hired: birth certificate, social security card, permanent address. “I’ve had to steal, to panhandle,” says Luis, “but mainly steal because nobody gives you nothing out there.” Some 60 percent of the runaways are girls. “What can a 13-year-old girl do besides show her body?” asked one girl. She was offered big money to pose nude. Most likely those pictures would be used later as blackmail to get her to do more.
Pornographers, drug dealers, and pimps frequent the bus stations looking for runaways to exploit. They are masters of manipulation. They offer scared youths a place to sleep and food to eat. They give them what they lacked at home—a feeling that they are truly special and loved. They are introduced to other youths, already involved, who welcome them and make them feel accepted. Slowly they are sucked in. The pimp may even arrange for someone to rape a girl and then promise to protect her from it happening again. Or he may introduce the teen to drugs, get her hooked, and then insist that she work for him thenceforth if she wants to continue getting her supply. Some rely on beatings or brute force to get their way. As can be imagined, many runaways end up seriously injured or even dead.
What Options Are There?
A teen thinking of running away may feel there are few options, especially if he or she is unwanted and unwelcome at home. Such are called pushouts or throwaways. Also, most youngsters on the run know that if they are apprehended by the police, their parents will be contacted, and they will most likely be sent home. And if the situation at home has not changed, they will run away again. Yet, the younger they are and the longer they stay on the road, the more likelihood there is of trouble. So a solution must be found.
First, try to work it out at home. Make every effort—and that means more than once—to talk with your parents. Let them know how you feel and what is going on. If that fails, talk to someone else who can help. Some youths have talked to their school counselor, a social worker, or a supervisor at a youth services bureau. Others have made use of the toll-free hot lines that have been set up in some countries to aid both parents and children. Christian youths, though, have had the advantage of turning to the elders in their congregation and receiving loving, personal help and Scripturally based counsel. But remember the key word: TALK. It is the thing that will help both you and your parents. “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk,” says the Bible, “but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.”—Proverbs 15:22.
The accomplishment may be an improved homelife that will give you hope for the future. It can mend old wounds and instill a feeling of trust, love, and happiness. You will feel your worth as an individual. Even if life at home may not be ideal, keep in mind that worse things can happen when you are on the run.
Whatever your situation, remember that there is always Someone who cares and who would like to help. Those who turn to God can be assured of his help and protection.—Proverbs 18:10.
[Picture on page 15]
Someone may offer you food, shelter, and a good time. But what does he want in return?