The subscribers of r/troubledteens (727 redditors) and r/youthrights (293 redditors) could scarcely be more horrified at a post (we may have a runaway teen in our midst) making it to the front page. Without any research as to why, an older redditor is looking to hunt down a redditor who has run away from home. Using information from the runaway’s responsible post for help, they aim to arrest him so that he can be sent to his (likely abusive) parents. The runaway’s family then intends to hold him in a private Christian prison. He will be isolated and subject to attack therapy and thought reform tactics, all without due process, presumably until he turns 18 and they can cut ties with him. Sadly, this is not an illegal or uncommon scenario. Child torture survivors have been coming out of the shadows on reddit; several AMAs about institutional abuse are posted on reddit every week. (1)(2)(3)(4)
A significant number of redditors tried to leave home, failed, and were irreparably harmed. Other redditors who ran away succeeded. But I’d bet that none of us regretted our decision the moment we turned 18. We didn’t disappear to party or cause harm. We had all resolved to find safety from a broken home.
All people, children included, don’t run away from a safe place. Before the redditors who joined in a runaway hunt jumped to “save the children,” they could have considered that a significant number of children are born into hopelessly deranged homes. Some children and teens realize this, have been forced to grow up early, and have been hurting for quite some time. They are justified, independent, and certainly gifted if they manage to go for more than 12 hours without being caught. It is outrageous to immediately dismiss the beliefs of any person, including a 16-year-old redditor, due to an uncontrollable trait such as their age.
These are our best and brightest future redditors – they courageously attempted to protect themselves from abuse and know firsthand the importance of their self-worth and civil liberties. Despite the moral rights American minors may have, they have virtually no legal freedoms until they turn 18. If they are captured, they will be drugged, beaten and imprisoned. It is not easy for independent young people; society is already set up to exclude them. Children on any street are already looked at with suspicion. To survive, runaways must become undocumented workers. Very few cities have resources or long-term programs to care for them. Emancipation through the courts is effectively a myth.
Our subreddits, r/troubledteens and r/youthrights, specifically condemn the frontpaged runaway hunt because the teenager likely comes from an abusive family. We are also aghast at the derogatory comments about all young people – condemning their rights to such basic principles as freedom of thought and freedom of movement, even denying the possibility of their intelligence. Many comments there imply that no young person could ever be correct over the will of a parent. Did you know that average teen intelligence is higher than average adult intelligence(5), and that tests of “informed decision-making”(6) show the average teen and adult to be equal? Are there no people in this world who do horrible things yet become parents anyway?
More broadly, since reddit deletes content with personal information, we insist that attacks on runaways be taken down before they reach the front page. If reddit becomes entirely hands-off about personal information, then redditors should find these attempts offensive and downvote them. At best, this practice is morally questionable. It is quite unlike the free-spirited character of reddit and the youth-built character of the internet.
The term “runaway” is a source of pride for each child who has attempted to escape a cruel or dangerous upbringing – or even worse, bizarre but true torture programs. We must only offer support, not threats, to runaways.