The letter was written by a disillusioned young American. He was one of an estimated one million young people who have run away from home and parents.
DEAR Mom and Dad: "I have walked with demonstrators, potheads, Hell's Angels, Diggers and... girls with Berkeley-Radcliffe ironed hair. I have drunk the soup of the soup kitchens and painted myself with Day-Glo and thrown bouquets at cops and loved at love-ins. "I have tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, freaked out, grooved, and grokked. Now, a little older and a little wiser, I'm coming home! "I'm coming home because it doesn't add up to a string of beads... Some of it was silly, some of it was phony, a lot of it was SICK! I'm tired of vinyl, bored with grass, up to here with beads and buttons and feathers."
This young man had found that the runaway-hippie life is not the answer. Bill was coming home but NOT to drop back into society. He continued: "Don't get me wrong, folks. I'm not dropping back in. I still think the world is pretty messed up, but I want to find a way to do something about it that's a little more positive than hiding out in a cold-water flat with a bunch of hippies and a bunch of bananas... "What next? Maybe I'll join the Peace Corps or go to Europe. I want to do something more than just show my contempt for this crazy world. Something maybe that'll show people the reality outside the nut house, the reality we should all be working to achieve.... "What is real is the urge that started this whole merry-go-round going. It's a basic dissatisfaction with a system..." Bill was confused dissatisfied with the system. He had run away in an attempt to solve his problems. But life as a runaway was more miserable. Not less. Today thousands of teenagers like Bill are running away seeking a better life, a meaning in life, fulfillment, happiness. What happens to these runaways? Where do they go? Why do they run? Who are they? The problem is so immense in scope that homes for runaways have sprung up in almost every large city in the U.S. Estimates put total runaway figures in the one million bracket. Juvenile officers agree that the number of runaways is steadily increasing. Police departments arrested more than 150,000 missing youths under 18 in 1968. About 60,000 of them were less than 14, roughly 5,000 under 10. Many were living with sex deviates and "speed freaks."
Who Are the Runaways?
Many assume the majority of runaways are from poverty-stricken homes. Not so. Most of those picked up by police are from middle-and upper-income families. The largest age category of these middle and upper-class runaways is the 14 to 15-year-old girl. Several agencies in Boston stated that the average runaway age in 1969 was 16. Last year it was 15. On the 8th of July last year, police found a 13-year-old runaway in Berkeley, California. The girl was "stoned" on methadrine and was being "passed around" by several young men in their 20's. But why? Why does a young teenage girl barely into puberty seek to escape the sanctity of home, family, friends? Why does she accept a life uncertain at best, lethal at worst? PLAIN TRUTH staff members interviewed Captain McInerney, officer in charge of Haight-Ashbury area, San Francisco when it was a Mecca for thousands of runaways. When asked why teenagers came here, he replied: "Most of the kids came because they thought they'd be able to live here. Live the rest of their life in the Haight-Ashbury! They truly believed it. "The girls would start living with some guy in a commune, in a pad a whole pile of them, fifteen or twenty in a pad... "It's a peculiar thing, the runaways would be revolted when they first went into a pad. But, they had to go because that was the scene. That was the thing to do you live with hippies in one of these pads. And after a while, the revulsion would leave them and any degrading thing was possible to them! They wouldn't think anything of it. We'd get young kids in, fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls, who would curse continually! And they weren't really mad at you, it had just become a part of their vocabulary." (Emphasis ours throughout)
The Unconscious Hook
Many of the runaway youngsters in these subcultures became enslaved victims before they knew what was happening. When naive youths come into such an area, they are easily molded by strong personalities. And it is invariably the wrong kind of leadership. Many teens quickly lose the will to get out, even though it is repulsive to them at first. But there is a reason why teenagers give up the security of home and friends to become a part of the Runaway Generation a part of the "bummer scene."
Parents to Blame?
Captain Thomas W. Frost, director of the Chicago Police Youth Division said youths run away because of "family instability." Many come from broken homes. Even from supposedly "unbroken" homes, runaways say parents are unhappily married or unhappy as individuals. In most runaway cases, there is conflict at home forcing teenagers to look for a better life elsewhere. The runaway life looks more attractive than the drab and often unhappy family life. Al Naes, Salina, Kansas probation officer commented: "By running away, they're asking for HELP!" Let's listen to some of these runaways "crying for help," and understand the cause of this serious and dangerous social problem.
"Nobody Cares About Me"
"Hang my parents. They don't care about me." "My mom never really loved me." "They don't do anything for me. Oh, they give me things all right. But everybody has those." "I never could get along with my parents. Nobody talks to me." Parents, in all too many cases, do not know how to love their children or how to show love. Sometimes they are afraid to show it. But parents are not solely to blame. Many runaway-center officials say that their youngsters have little concern for parents, even when the parents try very hard to reconcile the family. Nevertheless, the burden of responsibility always falls on the parents. They build the attitudes within their children. Many parents have actually created psychological Frankenstein Monsters their children simply will not listen to, obey, or in any way be controlled by their elders. As a result, many do not want their runaway teenagers to come back, simply because they wouldn't be able to control them. One judge said that one out of ten families refuses to take their youngster back.
No Discipline or Guidance
Paradoxically, teenagers claim they want parental discipline and they cite the lack of discipline as a cause in making them run away. One young girl runaway said that when she "first started taking dope, people kept saying, 'Venus, don't do it'... I just wish there had been somebody to keep me from doing it!" Another girl said she simply did not want to live at home. She didn't think her parents loved her. This runaway told officials that her parents had "never disciplined her." L. Francis Drake, of the Salina, Kansas Police Department, said that the runaways crave affection and want some discipline. The only reason one teenager could give for running away was: "I'm unhappy. Nobody CONTROLS me at home!" One police officer who deals in juvenile problems said it is foolish to assume you can let a youngster go undisciplined for years and then suddenly start disciplining him, expecting an immediate change. To implement an ironclad, drastic program of correction after a child has grown up in a permissive atmosphere for years could even cause him to run away. It takes a lot of patience, time, understanding, love and sympathy especially if the years from infancy onward have not been used to build a bridge between parent and child. Mrs. Bonnie Miller, a Pomona, California policewoman who handles runaway cases said: "Sometimes you just can't blame the kids... The parents may become concerned and crack down after having been permissive for years. The youngsters rebel, and the parents can't understand why."
Curiosity and Ignorance
Most runaways are leaderless and very naοve. Their youthful curiosity leads them into the runaway life, about which they know little or nothing. Many want to join the hippie scene. Teens often see in movies and on television such events as Woodstock and other gatherings. Hippie life is depicted as nothing but fun, parties and excitement. They have not been taught the effect of these drug-saturated gatherings, and the disease, mental aberrations and even death that may result from them. Nor have they really been taught how most hippies live their daily lives. Parents generally don't understand how desperately their youngsters need proper ethical, moral and spiritual teaching. And if youth fails to get it at home, they will seek solace elsewhere. The pressures to conform to peer groups are tremendous. Even PROPERLY guided teens have great difficulty resisting. It is all but impossible for youth to fight the pressures. Over and over again runaways say they were curious and wanted to see what hippie life was like. They were infatuated with the "whole scene." Running away became sort of a fad. Many, especially the boys, are seeking adventure (is it because they have so little at home?), only to see the whole escapade become a nightmare. Runaways are searching. They don't like this world they're looking for a better one and haven't found it.
World "Turns Them Off"
Runaways commonly express pity for their parents. They see them caught up in the rat race of materialism. They want no part of it. The more materialistic we become, the more bored our teenagers are with this life. One runaway remarked: "I'm terribly bored with this life." Society is simply consumed by greed. Greed has led us away from many of the good values our forefathers held. Teenagers are sick of horrible family failures sick of the immoral world adults have created. And there is always the ever-present nightmare of the bomb, which clouds their entire future. This has been hanging over their heads like a sword of Damocles all their lives! They want to Five it up fast there may be no tomorrow. They have rejected the past and are horrified by the future. They live only for the present, selfishly groping for kicks and thrills (usually the wrong kind). This is about all they have been given to live for! As a result, many run away from home and school in anger and disgust searching for a more meaningful life.
Running Away Is No Solution!
Many runaways left home to be free, only to find themselves enslaved. They entered a "street scene" that often became a chamber of horrors. If they were going to join the group, it usually meant foregoing their own will and giving in to stealing, drug-taking, repulsive sex practices crimes of all sorts. One runaway said, "Even right here in the Village (Greenwich Village in New York City), where they preach so much love and everything, it's really crummy because they have their little groups. There's so much hate here, it's incredible...!" Runaways find that, as a group, hippies and other inhabitants of these areas don't really practice love, often it's just sex sex worship. A runaway remarked: "The hippies are hypocritical too. They don't really care about other people." What, then, should teenagers disillusioned with family, friends and world do to find real happiness and fulfillment?
Listen to a runaway girl who found answers to her needs: "I am trying to get involved (for the first time in my life) constructively. I am sick of being a hippie living common law with my boyfriend on drugs, etc. I have returned home to my parents with my child and am planning to continue my education. My running away and dropping out of society a year ago only caused a lot of pain to all concerned." The greatest need today is for people who have the courage to do more than just show their contempt for the world. Recognizing that something is terminally wrong with society is the FIRST STEP toward a solution to our personal problems. But one must not stop there. He must do something positive. The way to really help solve this world's problems is to start by making you a better person. Bombing out the old world with human hands in hopes it will bring in the new is not the way. An old proverb says that before you start trying to take the splinter out of your brother's eye, you had better extract the beam from your own. Change begins at your doorstep. You change yourself first. You live a responsible life a life FREE of the hate, fighting, greed around you. Once you do that, you will be in a position to see more clearly what needs to be done to help the world. The problems of this world result from a GETTING attitude. People generally live just the opposite of the biblical principle: "It's more blessed to give than to receive." But don't try to force others to give to you; you give to others. We can solve a multitude of problems by looking after others' interests as vigorously as we do our own. This is especially applicable within the family. What a change we would find in any family if the parents and the children really tried to put each others' interests above their own if they continually searched for ways to make each other happy. Not just themselves. The only trouble with the giving, loving principle is that the human family has never really tried it! Yet, the giving attitude brings what everyone is seeking. Everybody enjoys living next door to someone who is deeply concerned for others responsible, reliable, doesn't kill, steal, lust for his or her mate, covet his property, lie or cheat. We all like this kind of neighbor. Try this loving, giving way of life. We guarantee you will be immeasurably happier. And the good it produces for others will be immense. It makes no difference whether you are a parent or a teenager. It's a spiritual law that is going to make families the whole world happy when it's obeyed.