Teenagers Running Away

Helpful Tips for Parents of Teen Runaways

Homeless teenage girl on street corner with belongings
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Having a child run away from home is every parent's worst nightmare. Even more shocking though, is the fact that almost all teens have thought about running away at least once. They just don't all follow through with it.

For this reason, it's important to remember that teens who run away are just like every other teen. They aren't bad kids. They just have made a bad decision. They got themselves caught up in something or are feeling pressures that they felt the need to escape from. Instead of facing their problems and solving them, they chose to run from them.

Likewise, the parents of teen runaways are not bad parents. In fact, a survey conducted of the children who call the National Runaway Switchboard indicates that only 16 percent of runaways that call have been abused physically, emotionally or sexually. In fact, many times, children of abuse tend to stick around and not run from the situation.

Why Teens Run Away

Sometimes running away has to do with something the teen has gotten into like drug use or hanging out with the wrong crowd. Other times it's because they made a bad choice and they are afraid of the consequences. And sometimes, it is about control.

For instance, when teens feel like their parents are suffocating them, being overly demanding, acting forceful, or dominating them, they might think about wanting to escape. Running away is one way to do that. In their minds, it is the ultimate way to demand autonomy. And, they often do not consider the risks involved.

What's more, almost every teen has met or knows someone that has run away. This becomes a challenge because running away is often glamorized by others. So, when they start thinking about it, it seems like a better option than it really is.

Preventing Runaway Behavior

To prevent teens from running away, it's important to teach them how to face their problems. When parents make a concerted effort to make sure their teens have the right tools to fix some of the things that may be going on in their lives, there is no more need for them to escape.

Of course, this starts with teaching them problem-solving skills. But, it also means coming alongside them and investing in them rather than focusing on correcting and directing. It means sitting down with them and listening to their thoughts and their frustrations and offering solutions. It also means empowering them to work through the hard stuff.

While every parent wants to prevent their teen from running away, it's also important to recognize that you cannot lock your teen in your house. As much as you would like to build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not to walk out the door.

You just have to do your best to let them know that there is nothing they could do that would make you ever stop loving them. Reinforce the idea that no matter what choices they make, you are there to help them correct their mistakes. Perhaps if they know this, running away will not seem like an attractive option.

If Your Teens Runs

Despite doing all the right things, sometimes kids still run away. If this happens in your home, call the police immediately. Don't wait 24 hours. Do it right away. Ask investigators to enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File. There is no waiting period for entry into NCIC for children under age 18.

Get the name and badge number of the officer you speak with. Call back often to see if there are any updates. In the meantime, call everyone your child knows and enlist their help. Search everywhere for your teen. Never leave your phone unattended in case the police contact you or your teen reaches out for help.

Search your teen's room for clues and check your teen's cell phone bill for any calls made recently. You also could check the location tracking on the cell phone on the off chance that your teen took the cell phone with them. Meanwhile, bank records might indicate any recent withdrawals or purchases, which can also serve as clues.

Call the National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-786-2929 or 1-800-RUNAWAY, and leave a message for your child. Many times teens will reach out to this service for help or guidance.

When Your Teen Comes Home

When kids finally come home after running away, it's important to take time to welcome them and let them know how happy and relieved you are that they are back. But before you have a huge discussion or try to understand the situation, take some time to decompress. You have all been through a lot and a little rest will be good for everyone. Instead, suggest some comforting things like a favorite meal, a hot shower, and a good night's sleep. Here are some other things you can do to make the transition home smoother.

Press the Pause Button

It's important that you take a break from each other. Do not start talking and asking questions right away. Your emotions are too high at this point to get anywhere in a conversation. Go two separate directions until you both have gotten some rest.

Ask and Listen

Probably the most important question you need to ask is "Why did you leave?" You could try phrasing it another way by asking "What is going on?" Then listen to what your teen has to say. Try not to get defensive, to make excuses, or to justify your actions. Your only goal is to try to understand where your teen is coming from. If they ask that you lighten up on a few rules, respond that you will think about it and let them know. Now is not the time to make any promises. You just need to understand what made them so upset that they wanted to leave.

Take Your Turn

Make sure you take time to tell them how you felt about them leaving. Let them know that they hurt you and that you were worried. Remind them that you love them and that there isn't a problem that you can't solve together. If they ever feel that running away might solve something, urge them talk to you first. Together, you can come up with choices so they can make a better decision.

Get Some Help

If this isn't the first time your teen has run away; or you are having problems communicating when they get back, it's time to ask for help. This could be a person that your child respects, such as a grandparent, a pastor, or an aunt or uncle. Or, you may want to seek professional help. Getting a counselor involved is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, sometimes having a neutral person to talk with can help teens open up about all types of issues. And, once that happens, they may be able to work through the issues and frustrations that cause them to consider running away.

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