Dispensing words of wisdom on a blog is ridiculously easy compared to dispensing the same sentiments to a teenager. Indeed, an entire industry has grown up to help do just that. Listening to school counselors talk about drugs, alcohol and STDs I’m amazed that more than a small percentage of teenagers survive to graduation. There are certainly no easy solutions to these problems. For example, one view of teenage sex is that it should be delayed and avoided as long as possible, while at the other extreme it is argued that trying to stop it is like trying to stop the tide from coming in, and consequently the process should be managed rather than fought.
Even just talking to a teenager can try the patience of a saint. One moment you’re talking to an articulate and rational young adult and the next to a bundle of hormones on steroids. “Don’t worry”, I’m told by long in the tooth parents, “the frontal lobes haven’t connected yet” and in a few years (2, 5, 10?) they will be apologizing to you for their behavior and all will be well. At some point, when your teenager has you emotionally floored, they will go for the jugular and let you know they are going to leave home at the first opportunity. Most of the time you can ignore this statement but it does raise some interesting issues.
What’s so wrong with children running away from home? As parents the answers are obvious. Beneath all the fears of abandoned hopes and dreams is the lingering nightmare that all that is good and beautiful will end up on the streets feeding the insatiable trade in drugs and sex. Why should this be? Why can’t children run away from home and get a safe but low-paying job that keeps them out of mischief and teaches them valuable life-skills at the same time?
One reason is that children have been deprived of most of their basic rights and so, like runaway slaves in former times and illegal immigrants today, are forced to live in fear, at the fringes of society. In California children are not allowed to leave home without their parent’s permission until they reach the age of 18. This is particularly harsh considering that children are allowed to drive lethal weapons (automobiles) at 16 and join the military at 17. Prevented from working (child labor laws) and forced into often unsuitable schools (compulsory attendance laws), children frequently become truants and are then virtually imprisoned in ‘reform’ type schools for actions that would never be considered crimes if committed by adults. Indeed, it has been estimated that from one-quarter to one-half of juvenile delinquents currently incarcerated by the state, did not commit acts that would be considered crimes if committed by adults. Rather, they committed such ‘crimes’ as truancy, incorrigibility, running away and (particularly for girls) immorality. Furthermore, as Murray Rothbard writes in his essay, ‘Kid Lib’:
“juveniles are habitually deprived of such elemental procedural rights accorded to adult defendants as the right to bail, the right to a transcript, the right to appeal, the right to a jury trial, the burden of proof to be on the prosecution, and the inadmissability of hearsay evidence.”
More than one million children run away from home each year in the United States and because they lack so many legal rights and are not legally employable, many of them end up on the streets, working in the drug and/or sex-trade, the only two occupations willing to ‘employ’ them. As usual with our really large and intractable social issues, the state is part of the problem, not the solution.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.” Mark Twain