Ever wonder where the “self-preservation instinct” is in teenagers, especially girls, who accept a ride from a stranger?
Assume that the teen who gets into a stranger’s car is 1) not ill or injured, and 2) fairly close to home, and 3) it’s not raining or scorching hot (not that these situations justify getting into a stranger’s vehicle!)
Also assume that the acceptance of a ride is voluntary; the driver does not make any threats of harm if the offer is declined.
For this article I consulted with child/adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Benoit, Chief Clinical Officer and SVP of Clinical & Professional Affairs of Devereux. Devereux is one of the largest not-for-profit behavioral healthcare organizations in the U.S., helping children and adults with emotional, developmental, educational and cognitive disabilities since 1912. Dr. Benoit is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry.
Ask yourself if you’ve ever gotten into a car with a total stranger when you were a teenager (perfect weather, etc.). If so, why?
“Well, let me preface this by saying – because there are many questions about why certain individuals engage in certain behavior or decisions – that I cannot say why people do certain things,” says Dr. Benoit.
There is no definitive answer, she says. She first points out that the teenager who gets into a stranger’s vehicle may “need a ride.” But is this need so dire that a young person is actually willing to sit inside a confined space with someone they don’t even know? Especially if the teen is a girl and the stranger is a man?
This isn’t about teens with exhausted legs and 20 pound backpacks going around asking strangers for rides. It’s about a teenager being approached out of the blue by a stranger offering a ride – and the young person blindly accepting even though their destination isn’t far off and there’s no freshly sprained ankle.
“But teens specifically are risk takers, impulsive and not analytical,” explains Dr. Benoit. “They might not approach this situation as one that may pose a risk to them.”
But there could be a darker explanation.
Dr. Benoit continues: “However, some young people, we see this happen a lot in regard to sexually exploited girls, that they will accept a ride from a stranger in order to flee a traumatic situation at home. In cases involving neglect or abuse particularly, a teen seeking attention and meaningful attachment could become a victim of a sexual trafficker.”
That may describe a teenage runaway, desperately seeking transportation. But let’s keep the big question confined to the most ideal situation:
The teenager is heading home. Home is not far and she knows how to get there on foot, has walked the route many times. The sun is out. She’s in no hurry; it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. She’s not carrying anything but her phone.
A stranger (man) comes along and offers a ride. This teen girl has no idea what he likes to talk about or whether or not his breath reeks or his body odor could scare off an elephant — or if he’s a sex offender. He’s also not pointing a gun at her ordering her to “get in.” Despite all these conditions and considerations, she gets into his car. Why?
That is the big mystery.