Searching for Connection: A New Look at Teenaged Runaways

By Schaffner, Laurie | Adolescence, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Searching for Connection: A New Look at Teenaged Runaways


Schaffner, Laurie, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

This paper presents the results of a qualitative study of 26 runaways in a rural New England shelter. Runaway behavior was viewed from the perspective of the teenagers themselves. The findings challenge popular notions that runaways are incorrigible delinquents who want to leave home, that the decision is impulsive, and that they hope never to return. Rather, many of the teenaged runaways left home in search of freedom from what they considered abusive treatment, whether physical, sexual, or emotional. Running away was found to be "last resort" behavior--teenagers' accounts yielded evidence that they struggled with the decision to run away. Nor was running away necessarily an irreparable break with family; many youths expressed the desire for reconciliation. Thus, running away was revealed to be a dynamic emotional experience for youths, which reflected changes in their social bonds with family, peers, and adults in the educational, legal, and medical systems.

INTRODUCTION

Approximately 12% of American youths run away at least once before the age of eighteen (Burgess, 1986; Garbarino & Garbarino, 1986). On any given night, there may be over a million adolescent runaways on the streets or "in the system" (National Runaway Switchboard, 1993; Burgess, 1986).

Runaways come from the full range of American families: White, Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian; single-parent and two-parent households; and privileged, middle-class, working-class, low-income, and even homeless families (Bass, 1992). Furthermore, they do not always run away from "home": youths run from foster care, shelters, group homes, and residential treatment facilities.

This paper presents the results of a qualitative study of 26 runaways. During the 1993-1994 academic year, the author spent time at a runaway shelter, interacting with, observing, and interviewing young people, as well as accessing their files, which included reports by social workers and juvenile justice system officers. Similar to estimates of the national population, 58% were female; 61% White, 12% African American, 23% Puerto Rican/Latino, and 4% other; 39% were from low-income families; and 35% were from single-parent families.

The county-run shelter houses 9 youths, males and females aged 12 to 17, for a maximum stay of 45 days. Residency is voluntary; that is, it is not a locked-down facility. Youths are referred internally from the State Department of Social Services or, in the case of young offenders, the Department of Youth Services. In other words, it is not a drop-in center--a runaway or abandoned youth could not walk up to the front door and gain admittance.

Placement at the shelter enables staff to assess adolescents' emotional needs as well as administer medication if necessary, and lets the adolescents "settle down" until the county decides what to do with them next. It serves as an alternative detention center for truants and other status offenders (status offenses are acts that would not be illegal if committed by adults; for example, sexual activity, drinking alcohol, and curfew violations). The shelter is considered a temporary residence for youths awaiting court dates or sentencing, or transfer to foster care or group homes. Serious habitual or violent offenders are not accepted. Thus, none of the participants in this study were runaways who had been involved in violent delinquent behavior, such as armed robbery or capital offenses.

Social bond theory posits that delinquency occurs when youths' moral, emotional, and psychological ties to society weaken or rupture (Hirschi, 1969/1985). O'Neil (1994) offers covenant theory to describe the connection that should exist within a family (as well as society; see also Giddens, 1991). For the runaway, the social covenant has been broken. Despite this rupture, the present study highlights that, in general, adolescents resist running away and that it is actually a last option for them.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Searching for Connection: A New Look at Teenaged Runaways
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.