Yesterday I came across an absolutely heartbreaking article.
Some teenagers are running away because their parents, stressed by the recession, are taking their frustrations out on their kids, physically as well as emotionally abusing them. The promoters of anti-youth laws love to claim that runaways are brats who took off in a snit because their parents wouldn’t buy them an iPod, but in real life, nearly all runaways are fleeing horrific conditions. But in many cases, the parents are themselves throwing their teenagers out of the house. This is illegal, but they’re doing it anyway.
The boys were also runaways. But unlike them, Betty said, she had been reported missing to the police. That meant that if the boys let her stay overnight in their hidden tent encampment by the freeway, they risked being arrested for harboring a fugitive.
Giving a young girl shelter in which she might escape rape or assault is a crime.
“We keep running into this,” said one of the boys, Clinton Anchors, 18. Over the past year, he said, he and five other teenagers living together on the streets had taken under their wings no fewer than 20 children — some as young as 12 — and taught them how to avoid predators and the police, survive the cold and find food.
“We always first try to send them home,” said Clinton, who himself ran away from home at 12. “But a lot of times they won’t go, because things are really bad there. We basically become their new family.”
Nice someone is willing to do what these kids’ families won’t.
Too young to get a hotel room, sign a lease or in many cases hold a job, young runaways are increasingly surviving by selling drugs, panhandling or engaging in prostitution, according to the National Runaway Switchboard, the federally-financed national hot line created in 1974. Legitimate employment was hard to find in the summer of 2009; the Labor Department said fewer than 30 percent of teenagers had jobs.
So here’s a radical proposition for relieving the horrors of homelessness, destitution, and crime to which these teenagers are subject:
LET TEENAGERS GET JOBS AND APARTMENTS.
When it’s legal for a teenager who isn’t lucky enough to have decent parents to be a law-abiding citizen without living with constant battering and rape and possible murder, they will be. Right now, if they get tired of being the constant victims of felonies, they have no choice but to turn to crime. And if leaving their parents means they’ll have to get a job and support themselves, they aren’t going to leave unless things really are bad at home.
Besides which, “adolescence” is a fake phenomenon. Until the twentieth century, nobody noticed that it existed. At that age, girls were looking for husbands and boys were entering the workplace or going for higher education – of a sort only found in master’s degree programs today, but then, this was when preteens were considered capable of studying ancient Greek.
And what is the result of allowing teenagers to do real jobs? Surely it must be terrible, as everyone knows (read: is constantly assured) that all teenagers are creatures of constant deranged, powerful impulses who must be watched every instant lest they go on mad sprees of killing, stealing and using illicit substances.
Once again, that pesky thing known as history gives this myth the lie:
Thomas Johnston Taylor, businessman and public servant: born Glasgow 27 April 1912; President, Scottish Co-Operative Wholesale Society 1965-70; created 1968 Baron Taylor of Gryfe; Chairman, Forestry Commission 1970-76; Chairman, Scottish Railways Board 1971-80; chairman, Morgan Grenfell (Scotland) 1973-85; Chairman, Economic Forestry Group 1976-81; FRSE 1977; Chairman, Scottish Action on Dementia 1989-95; married 1943 Isobel Wands (two daughters); died St Andrews 13 July 2001.
From being a 14-year-old school leaver from Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow who had lost his father in France at the age of three in the First World War, to chairmanships of the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Railways Board and membership of the international board of Morgan Grenfell and House of Lords select committees, Tom Taylor’s journey was one of constructive achievement. Having to earn a living at 14, he became an office boy in the Scottish Co-Operative Wholesale Society, then the biggest commercial organisation in Scotland; he was eventually to become its president.
Andrew Carnegie was born on 25 November 1835 in Dunfermline, Scotland in a typical weaver’s cottage with only one main room consisting of half the ground floor which was shared with the neighbouring weaver’s family. … His first job at age 13 in 1848 was as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill twelve hours a day, six days a week. His wages were $1.25 per week. …
In 1850, Carnegie became a telegraph messenger boy in the Pittsburgh Office of the Ohio Telegraph Company, at $2.50 per week, following the recommendation of his uncle. His new job gave him many benefits including free admission to the local theater. This made him appreciate Shakespeare’s work. He was a very hard worker and would memorize all of the locations of Pittsburgh’s businesses and the faces of important men. He made many connections this way. He also paid close attention to the telegraph’s instruments and within a year was promoted as an operator.
Carnegie’s education and passion for reading was given a great boost by Colonel James Anderson, who opened his personal library of 400 volumes to working boys each Saturday night.
Jose Silva’s life is more than a great American success story. It has transcended time and space to become one of the world’s all time great success stories.
Orphaned at the age of six, he began to support his family by selling newspapers, shining shoes, and doing odd jobs. Jose learned to read and write on his own – in both English and Spanish.
He became an entrepreneur, inventor, and pioneer of self-hypnosis and meditation techniques.
He attended the Landreth Public School until he was 14, when he was employed as an errand boy in the publishing house of Troutman and Hayes on Market Street below Fifth at a salary of $1.25 a week.
He became a hugely successful merchant, as well as a philanthropist and public servant.
Farragut entered the US Navy as a midshipman in 1811. At 12 years old while serving in the War of 1812 he received his first command, a captured british whaling ship.
Here’s a few more examples. Also, Laura Ingalls Wilder had her first teaching job at the age of fifteen. The law required that teachers be a minimum of sixteen years old and pass a test, but they neglected to ask her age, and she passed the test with no trouble. I doubt many of today’s college-educated schoolteachers could pass that test. This was an era when by the age of ten most children had memorized the Declaration of Independence (in fifth grade, I was required to memorize the first three sentences, and we never read it in school – I read it on my own) and much of the Bible, and could diagram sentences. In my years of school, we only diagrammed sentences once, the year I had Mrs. Peeler, and Mrs. Peeler was probably one of Laura Ingalls’ students. (Okay, I exaggerate a little.) I remember the distress of one of my professors, a very old man, that he had to explain to us that an ellipse must be followed by a period, something I routinely see omitted in published books and magazines. He said, “Grammatical rules should not have to be taught in college.” I concur, professor, but not only were you the first person to tell us this and other rules, you were probably the first person we encountered who knew these rules. Except for Mrs. Peeler, and not everybody had Mrs. Peeler in seventh grade, more’s the pity. In high school, one of my English teachers, asked whether the past tense of “sneak” is “sneaked” or “snuck”, had to look it up.
In recent years, dubious scientific research has purported to “prove” that teenagers biologically have no self-control, and that such things as the understanding of cause and effect, the moral sense, and empathy do not begin to neurologically develop until the twenties and other such rot. These studies have been seized upon eagerly by parents who like to beat their children in lieu of any other way of teaching them proper behavior, the rationale apparently being that children whose brains cannot comprehend cause and effect will temporarily acquire this ability long enough to grasp the connection of the cause of bad behavior with the effect of being beaten. (I am not opposed to all corporal punishment, of children or adults, but I have witnessed much too much child abuse not to believe that it must be administered carefully, and a distressing amount of the talk I hear about it is based on obviously wrong premises, such as this one. I will probably write a post on this at some point.)
I will continue to dismiss such studies out of hand until one of these articles explains such things as why teenagers and children are frequently observed to have morals and empathy, why well-reared youngsters display more self-control than children subjected to chaotic homes, how babies who do not understand cause and effect are able to learn to crawl without their little brains noticing that when they move their arms and legs in such a way they are able to locomote themselves, and most of all, why nobody noticed any of this before the twentieth century. In point of fact, if all this rubbish is true, why did the first naked ape to rear onto its hind legs not get eaten by a bear during those crazed adolescent years, nipping our species in the bud? Our species would never have survived if our brains really take as long as these people claim to work.
The bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy is understood to reach the age of moral responsibility, happens, according to these researchers, a decade before any such responsibility can possibly be expected. Judaism is about 4,000 years old. In all that time, we haven’t seen any reason to move the age up, so evidently it’s worked out okay.
In counterpoint to the fashionable theory of the adolescent brain, I would like to point out that a greater willingness to take risks only makes sense for teenagers. In pre-industrial societies, this would be their time of greatest energy and fertility. This was when they needed to demonstrate to their society what they could do, to win a place in their society. Risk-taking is, well, risky, but it’s also a necessary thing. Especially, it’s necessary for reproduction. I’m almost forty. If I were looking for a spouse now, I would be so discerning that I would probably remain single; years of experience and the natural cynicism of age make me see the downside to every possible relationship. If twenty-year-olds felt this way, the species would die out. The idea is, we pair off in our teens or twenties when we feel the optimism to believe that we can deal with whatever problems come with committing to the person who has caught our eye. By the time that risk-taking feeling has worn off with age, we are generally already married with a couple of kids, and in most cases, even if our spouse has been in some ways disappointing and no longer makes the hormones flow, the years of looking after each other and raising children together has given us something to make the relationship still worthwhile. In fact, the decreased willingness to take risks happens precisely to make us less likely to leave our spouse of twenty years and our children to run off with somebody young and goodlooking. To put it less clinically, over time a different form of love develops from the original infatuation, but only time can make that kind of bond possible.
Too often we confuse the normal cycles of life with maturity and immaturity. Normal changes over time in hormones and neurology are not the same thing. Maturity is an intellectual and spiritual quality which not everybody achieves with age. The normal changes, such as becoming more risk-averse and less passionate about things in general, are no more signs of maturity than arthritis is. It’s simply what best serves our survival, and that of our children, at a later age.
If the researchers I cited earlier are correct, this means that we have about five years of our lives when we can be trusted with responsible behavior.
A couple more items on why adolescence is a pathological construct:
Let’s Abolish High School By Robert Epstein
Well, not quite. But while writing a new book called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, I explored some ideas that go almost that far.
And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.
I have to take exception to that last bit, of course, but the article is excellent. What we really need to do is bring back apprenticeships.
By the way, if we allow adolescents to have jobs, legally, for enough hours that they can support themselves if conditions at home are intolerable, they can do the boring, unskilled jobs we are currently importing large numbers of unskilled, criminally inclined, leftwing voters from the Third World to do.
ETA: As if in answer to this post, today Gates of Vienna posted this:
An Ohio court today ordered that authorities monitor telephone and Internet use of Fatima Rifqa Bary, the 17-year-old religious runaway who left Columbus for Orlando over the summer.
The girl has yet to return from Florida.
At a dependency hearing today, both sides in the case agreed to continue the case until next month.
Her phone and Internet use will be monitored by Franklin County Children Services.
Rifqa Bary is an honor student who ran away because her father intended to execute her for converting from Islam to Christianity. Because she is 17, she was arrested for attempting to escape murder. I have read editorials by people pretending not to believe her father’s threats to kill her. Time Magazine claims that she was pressured by her church to tell the lie to make Muslims look bad – because, you know, Muslims never commit real honor killings, Christians have to make them up. The Orlando Sentinel, salivating at the happy prospect of getting a teenage girl killed, published a lying editorial claiming that her life was in no danger.
If she were a few months older, she would be in no danger of being dragged back at gunpoint to the man who wishes to murder her.