Being a teenager is not easy. The weight of expectation from home, the pressure from peers, the burden of schoolwork, the anxiety over what lies ahead, the uncertainty of a future that can go so wrong, all combine to create a rather stressful and insecure life for them.
“As a teenager I was so insecure,” said the actor and star of Pirates Of The Caribbean, Johnny Depp.
He turned out fine, you might say. However, this does not take away from the fact that at this age it can be difficult to cope; the mood swings too violent to control.
The recent spate of young teens going missing here, as the police describe it –– or running away from home, as most of us see it –– emphasizes this difficulty these youngsters face.
“Any child can run away at any time if the circumstances are right. Believe me, if they’re under enough stress, any kid can justify running away,” wrote American child behavioural therapist James Lehman.
In his article Running Away: Why Kids Do It And How To Stop Them, Lehman pointed out that running away was an action that required the ability, the willingness and the opportunity.
He explains that the opportunity and ability exist daily and that the willingness can develop for a variety of reasons.
“It could be a stressful situation your child is under, a fear of getting consequences for something they did, a form of power struggle, not wanting to go to school,
or a substance abuse problem,” he wrote.
We dare to add that it could be a desire to belong or to do whatever they please without the restrictions placed on them by parents.
Whatever the cause, it is a parent’s nightmare when a child goes missing, with the state of panic rising with every passing moment.
From time to time, the police issue notices seeking the public’s assistance in locating girls who have gone missing, a practice that appears to have become fashionable
in Barbados. Often, they are found at a house of some relative, friend, or Heaven knows who; and that is the end of the matter, until the next one goes missing.
The police do not normally say why these girls run away or where they spend their time while on the run, and the public, whose support they solicit, is no more the wiser.
They may have to reconsider this policy as the problem appears to be intensifying. The disappearance of eight girls in 11 days suggest more than simple coincidence and points to something more sinister.
Think of 14-year-old Keneisha Taylor, who went missing for a week, sending her father Mark Taylor into tears as he pleaded for her return. She had run away once before and had been found at a St Michael man’s home three days later.
Consider the case of six students from Grantley Adams Secondary School who went missing over the weekend. Imagine the fear and panic that must have gripped their parents and communities.
Five were found, again at the home of a St Michael man. The police did not say whether or not he was the same person at whose home Keneisha was found.
The police have not said where the sixth was found.
While five of the girls have been charged with wandering and sent to the Government Industrial School, we all must be thankful that they have been found alive.
We will neither engage in, nor encourage false morality and cant in this situation. This is neither the place nor the time or occasion for it.
What we do need is an extensive search for answers to this growing epidemic.
We do not know what happened in the house where these children were found, or at any of the homes that those who stray find solace. However, whether relative, friend or otherwise, the adults who encourage these truants must know the juveniles have families.
There is something fundamentally wrong with harbouring children who you know have run away. If you believe they are being abused at home, contact the police
or the Child Care Board.
However, many of those who provide sanctuary for these children have less than honest motives and these spivs must be made to pay. Begin by naming and shaming them and unleash the full brunt of the law on them.
But then as a society, if we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, we might discover that we too are letting these children down.
Many of those who criticize them are branded by their caste, the scion of religious priggishness. Often they forget that there are underlying issues that are influenced
by the very people who are charged with setting examples.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,” said the American novelist, playwright and social critic James Baldwin.
Many of our children are simply imitating what they have learned from parents, caretakers, religious and political leaders and other elders.
We have a responsibility as a country, as a society, as a community to eliminate the underlying issues that drive our girls away from home and, often, into the waiting arms of predators.
The despair and anger which we feel whenever one of these children goes missing is evidence that we care and we want the best for our children.
We now need concrete, positive action to protect them and to help them feel welcome at home. Otherwise, hope is all but gone.