Teenagers Running Away

Helpful Tips for Parents of Teen Runaways

Homeless teenage girl on street corner with belongings
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Teens who run away aren't bad. They have made a bad decision. They got themselves caught up in pressures that they felt the need to escape from. Instead of facing their problem and solving it, they chose to run from it.

We need to teach our teen how to face their problems, even if the problem is us. When they have the right tools to fix some of the things that may be going on in their lives, the pressure lessens, and there is no more need for them to escape.

Every teen either has tried or knows another teen who has run away.
I haven't met a teen yet who didn't know of someone's experience of running away. This can be a real problem, considering most teens will glamorize the experience.

You cannot lock them in.
As much as you would like to build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not to walk out the door. The phrase I use, "There are no bars on these windows, and the doors only lock people out." This is harsh, and I know it, but it also very much the truth. As a parent, I can be a safety net, a toolbox, and an emotional punching bag, but I refuse to be a chain.

I do not want them to ever leave. There is nothing that they can do to ever make me want them to go. My teens know this because I tell them verbally and non-verbally.

Parents of teens who run away are not bad parents.
'A survey done by the National Runaway Switchboard of the children who call the service indicates that about 16 percent of runaways have been abused physically, emotionally or sexually.' (Taking a Run at the Runaways Problem, by Gary Miller) Children of abuse tend to stick around and not run from the situation.

If Your Teens Runs

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.
Call everyone your child knows and enlisted their help. Search everywhere, but do not leave your phone unattended.

Search your teens room for anything that may give you a clue as to where he went. You may also want to check your phone bill for any calls they may have made recently.

Call the National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-786-2929 or 1-800-RUNAWAY, you can leave a message for your child with them. They are funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

When Your Teen Comes Home

  • Take a break from each other.
    Do not start talking about it 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.
    Why did they leave? You may want to evaluate a rule or two after speaking with them, but do not do so while having this talk. Tell them you are willing to think about it, and you will let them know.
  • Talk!
    Tell them how you felt about them going, let them know that they hurt you by leaving. Let them know that there isn't a problem that together you can't solve. If they ever feel that running away might solve something, have them talk to you first, you could always offer other choices so they can make a better decision.
  • Get some help.
    If this isn't the first time or you have problems communicating when they get back, it's time to ask for help. This could be a person that your child respects, i.e. aunt or uncle. Or you may want to seek professional help.
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