The harsh reality is that teens may often feel like they have to escape and get away from home to avoid abusive home lives. For example, maybe a parent has a drinking problem and disciplines their children with a heavy hand or disappears for days on end with children left to fend for themselves. Or another example is a father (or someone else in the family circle) who is a bit too “touchy-feely” with the children and they have no one to turn to for help out of fear that no one will believe them. For some children, running away seems like the only solution to a life shattering problems.
It is possible for a teen to runaway just because of feeling like they are misunderstood. Right or wrong, they are searching for others they can be themselves with or feel a sense of belonging. Other times it may be in the name of so-called “love”, and teens runaway to be with their significant other. Most teens don’t even realize and understand the consequences of these types of action, they act without thinking first. They simply react, which opens the door to Pandora’s Box. Many runaway youth fall victim to crime, drugs, sex slavery, and/or even worse, death.
In order to effectively and compassionately help these children, we, as a society, need to remember that "runaways" are victims too. For in-depth details on Why They Run, read the National Runaway Switchboard report here. For additonal facts about runaways, click here.
Warning Signs Your Teen Might Runaway
Even though one can never really know for sure what a teenager is thinking, there are signs that may be visible in your child’s behavior. One thing to look for is your current level of communication. Do you ever agree on anything or does it seem you only argue or fuss all the time or just keep conversations to a minimum due to “generational differences”. Does your teen act withdrawn and/or completely unsociable? Does your teen avoid interaction with family or family friends? Does your teen act strange or have extremely emotional feelings that are out of control? Has your teen been hanging out with bad company and/or others who drink alcohol, use drugs, or other teens that just go out to “look for trouble”? If you notice these signs, consider it a “red flag” and a warning sign that you need to reach out and try communicating with your teen before it is too late, even if you have to get outside help to do so.
What You Can Do As A Parent
While some responsibility lies with teens to be willing to face challenges in a mature and appropriate manner, it’s important for parents to do their part as parents. Try showing your teen respect and keep communication open, listening to what they have to say. Be willing to believe your children if they disclose sexual abuse to you (especially by a family member or family friend) and get them the help they need. Denying a child’s claim of sexual abuse will only victimize the child further and encourage them to runaway as their only solution. Don’t scream and yell, or threaten your teen, this too will only make them want to leave more. Try not to interrupt your teenager when they do come to you to talk, sometimes it helps the most to just listen, even if you have your reservations about something their telling you. If you don’t agree with your child at least listen to their side, then calmly give your side, if things start to get out of control, take a break and revisit the conversation after both sides have had a “cooling-down” period. Bottom line, communication is the key to your child's safety and it should be a family priority.
If you feel your child may runaway, you can seek professional help through counseling, or just try talking to them and explain how much you love them, and that you will always be there for them.
Family resources for runaway prevention:
Boys Town 1-800-448-3000
National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-RUNAWAY
Resources if your child has runaway:
Child Quest International 1-888-818-HOPE
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 1-800-843-5678