The teenage exodus from home is escalating. A growing number of teenagers are leaving home before they can be self-sufficient, reasonably independent and successful.
Where are they leaving to? Some are moving in with extended family, others with friends and still others are electing to live in the streets, cars or abandoned houses.
However, there is another very small, almost forgotten group who are choosing to live in structured, life-giving environments that they call home. These kinds of homes are few and far between. The young people who live in them have a wide range of difficulties. Their common denominator is that they want to make something of themselves. Thus, they are willing to do whatever it takes to grow and become whole.
Their difficulties run the gamut of teenage struggles: misuse of drugs and alcohol, depression, poor communication and coping skills, low self-esteem and repressed anger, just to name a few.
There is another group of young people with a unique profile who are leaving home, and their number is growing.
When we think of the teenage exodus, most of us think that the problems in question focus primarily with the teenager. He or she is the identified problem. As adults, we rarely think that possibly the teenager might be in a terrible family environment with emotionally abusive and neglectful parents.
For an increasing number of teenagers, life at home is becoming unbearable. This is not because teenagers are spoiled, selfish and self-centered, but rather because they are living in lethal environments that are shackling them.
These young people are living with a violence that is more destructive than physical violence will ever be. Their parents are well-educated, successful adults who don't know how or don't want to parent. They hide behind their formal education and material success and emotionally destroy their children.
More and more of these young people are leaving these environments for survival. What they are finding is not merely survival, but a way of life that is rich with empowerment, opportunity and happiness.
In many cases, for the first time the emotional stress that was imprisoning them has been lifted. They are encouraged to dream dreams. More importantly, their self-esteem increases and they really believe their dreams can come true.
KT is a dynamic twenty year old who is a junior at a local liberal arts college. He is a secondary education major with a primary concentration in history and a secondary concentration in music. He is passionate about becoming a high school teacher. For the past two summers, KT has participated in a special summer program for disadvantaged elementary school children. His supervisor said he was outstanding.
Many years ago KT's birth parents separated. They split because the home environment was volatile and often explosive. After a number of years of enduring tremendous emotional abuse and violence, KT's mother left. She elected to leave her son with his father because she was afraid she could not provide for him. She was terrified.
As the years passed, KT's mother got settled in her own career. She continued to see her son regularly and supported him as best as she was able. KT's father continued to be verbally abusive. He took up with a wonderful woman who bore him three beautiful children. Unfortunately, she was brutally killed in a violent car accident. Now KT was forced to assume even greater responsibility in this already dysfunctional family. KT was expected to tend to his half sisters, while his volatile Dad tended to himself, getting high and drinking.
Finally, by the end of his sophomore year in high school, KT had had it. He begged his birth mother to help him get out. She found a very positive environment for her son to grow in.
Just before his junior year began, KT made the most important transition of his life. He took the risk and left everything he knew behind. Knowing full well that for his sanity, he would probably never be able to return.
Initially this transition was frightening and difficult for KT. He transferred from a very large, diverse high school on the South Shore to a very homogenous school on the North Shore.
After a few months, KT felt like he had been in his new school all his life. He had never played sports before, but he tried out for football and made varsity. He also played the viola in the school orchestra.
KT never thought college was possible. Now he was talking about changing his life forever.
His years at college have been transforming. He will admit that he is a different man. He has explored possibilities that he never thought would be given to him. His self-esteem has grown exponentially. He is clearly a different human being.
KT works very hard on his own personal growth development. He has learned well that one should not judge a book by its' cover. Over the recent past, KT has worked very hard to be his own person and not worry about what others think and say.
This past summer KT connected with a wonderful young woman. They were close in age and quickly connected. Immediately, he started talking about his passion for learning and education. Her parents initially loved him. They thought he was amazing. He worked, played sports, went to school and did well. Her parents were impressed.
As they got to know each other, he reluctantly shared with his girlfriend's parents where he lived and the fact that he did not live at home. They went ballistic. They immediately changed their positive image of this hard working, value centered young man. They allowed their own biases and stereotypes to color how they saw this young man.
When his girlfriend shared her parent's reaction with KT, he was devastated. He could not believe they could be so shallow and narrow-minded. And he is right.
KT did the right thing. He was fortunate that when he left home, there was a life-giving environment available for him that has made all the difference in his life.
What about all the young people who don't get the chance and literally die in the infected environments they are stuck in?
As adults, we need to stretch our thinking and not be so narrow-minded. In my twenty-five years of working with young people, I have found that sometimes those who on paper seem to be the shining stars in a community are more reckless and out of control than those who have elected to leave home and find a better way!