An acquaintance who works with street teens once said to me, “They live in a completely different world.” She did not mean only that they lived downtown and not in the suburbs, slept under bridges and not in beds, ate in soup kitchens instead of restaurants. She meant that street teens experienced a social reality radically different from the reality of those who have lived most of life in a relatively sheltered and stable middle-class environment. They have a different view of other people, of social authority, of human nature, of political and social institutions. As my acquaintance understood it, this difference resulted from experiences at home and school, experiences with adults who were at best negligent, at worst abusive and hostile. Children were not cared for at home, fared poorly at school, then ran from home to the street. The street teens she knew were hostile and despairing and expected others to be the same. A fundamental difference was in the area of trust: these teens lacked trust in family, teachers, peers, police, even those who sought to help them. And apparently for good reason, given the circumstances from which many of them emerged.
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