Dealing With a Defiant Teen Who Runs Away

A Parent Asks for Help With an Out of Control Teen

Depressed teen on stairs

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A distressed mom asks for help: I have a 17-year-old daughter that has run away at least 10 times in the last 2 years. Each time she leaves, I wait 48 hours then call the police. I am very frustrated with this and am stuck at this moment with what to do. She is not at home as I am writing this. She has called me and when she does, she acts like nothing has happened.

She is now refusing to come home and I really don't know what else to do. I love her with all my heart, I have had her in-home counseling and outpatient therapy, she is just defiant and wants to do things her way. Rules are just not followed at all.

The smallest thing, like not using the phone or saying no to a football game because she was in trouble at school or skipped school that day, will lead to her either leaving after school and doing just what I said no to. I am at the end of my options and she won't be 18 until next August. I pray a lot for my daughter and her safety.

Kathy's response: There are several steps you need to take to ensure your daughter's safety. Her behavior is out of control and you're struggling to deal with a teen who is both troubled and extremely defiant.

As a first step get your daughter into a temporary shelter where she will be safe while you work to get this situation under control.

Then it's time to negotiate a contract that you both can live with. Work with a family therapist to develop written rules for living in your house, to include no running away. When teens have input into the details of the structure they are expected to live by they are more agreeable to the terms.

Keep in mind that your teens' behavior is a sign of the lack of control she feels on the inside. Once rules are established your next challenge is to help her deal with the problems she hasn't been able to face.

Since your daughter has been in outpatient therapy and has a lengthy history of doing what she wants, waste no time getting help from the family therapist to get your troubled teen into a residential treatment program.

In this type of therapeutic setting, it will be difficult for her to run away and she can finally deal with the real issues behind her out of control behavior. Once she turns 18 it will no longer be your decision to get her into treatment. As a legal adult, your daughter will only get help if she chooses to do so.

This is a difficult situation to deal with, your daughter is lucky to have a parent who is so concerned about her and trying so hard to help her. I hope this information is helpful, let me know how this works out.

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  1. Administration for Children & Families. Family & Youth Services Bureau. Basic center program fact sheet. Updated December 2018.

  2. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Literature review. A product of the Model Programs Guide. Residential treatment centers. Updated July 2011.