Teenage Runaways

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
runaway

No teenager ever aspires to become homeless, running from the very people who were supposed to care and protect him. However, 1.6 to 2.8 million teens runaway from home each year, according to the National Runaway Switchboard. Many of these teenagers are abused sexually, physically and emotionally. They run for safety but instead end up fleeing right into an abyss of dangerous predators seeking vulnerable youth who only yearn for the comfort of a caring body.

Causes for Running Away from Home

  • 47% of teen runaways reported that they were having a conflict with a parent or guardian.
  • Approximately 50% of teens reported that their parents kicked them out of the house or didn't care that they left.
  • 80% of youth reported sexual or physical abuse before running away.

All statistical information from National Runaway Switchboard.

Mental Illness

Depression: Teenagers who become depressed may have a difficult time with decision making and may act on impulse. Since the depressed teen may not understand the emotions and thoughts running through him, he may blame his parents for his problems. This then leads to the false realization that being away from them will solve all of their issues.

Oppositional defiant disorder: Another mental disorder that many teen runaways suffer from is oppositional defiant disorder, also called conduct disorder. They have a difficult time obeying authority and will act out in retaliation to anyone who tries to tell them what to do. Their actions are impulsive and can sometimes be threatening. The run away because they don't want to follow anyone's rules besides their own.

Substance Abuse

According to the website, TroubledTeenSearch.com, 71% of surveyed street youths in Los Angeles abused drugs and/or alcohol. These substances act on the mind very much like mental illess, leading to impulsivity and poor judgment skills. Not only does this lead many teenagers to run away, but it also propels them into a life of drugs, alcohol, crime and abuse on the streets.

Difficulties in Adolescence

Adolescents have a difficult time expressing their thoughts and emotions at times. This can cause them to feel powerless. To gain back that control, they feel as though they need to break away from the chains of parents and authority. They feel that if they can make it on their own, they will be able to show everyone how much they really know.

Adolescents who run away from home are usually running away from something they can't face. This could be parental separation, sexual orientation, bullying in school and other traumatic events. Teenagers don't runaway for attention but to escape the realities of a world they are afraid of or exhausted from living in. They want to be free from the devastation and find a new happiness.

Life on the Streets

Most runaways return home within 48 hours to a week and will typically stay with friends, according to the National Runaway Switchboard. However, the longer teenagers stay away from home, the higher the risk they have of becoming victims of perpetrators (abuse and assault). Involvement in gangs, illegal activities, and suicide are all possible results of homelessness.

Teen Runaway Help

If you are a runaway, you don't have to run anymore. You can get help. Call 1-800-RUNAWAY. They have people who will help you find shelters and the assistance you need to make it back on the right path, even if that isn't home for you.

If you do want to go home but have no idea how to get there from where you are or just don't have the money, National Runaway Switchboard has a program that will help you get home on Greyhound bus lines free. Simply call their number for help.

Parent Tips for Dealing with a Runaway Situation

If you suspect your teenager has run away, follow these steps:

  • Call his friends to ask about the last time they saw him.
  • Visit local hangouts or possible places he may have gone.
  • Check her room and belongings to find any clues of her whereabouts.
  • Call the police to report a missing person.
  • Acquire caller ID in case your teenager calls.
  • Call area shelters to check to see if he has contacted them and ask for further information on who to call.
  • Call 1-800-RUNAWAY for even more information on your plan of action.
  • Check out the Help Find My Child website for support and further assistance in your search.

If Your Teen Calls

Remain as calm as possible if your teenager calls. Show that you are genuinely concerned and care for her. Urge her to come home, but listen as well. Many teens just want the chance to be heard. Refrain from saying anything negative to your teen, for example, "When you get home, you're going to be grounded." Take this running away as a serious sign that something is wrong and that your son or daughter needs help.

When Your Teen Comes Home

It's a very emotional and sensitive time when a runaway comes home. He feels apprehensive about walking in the door because he doesn't know what to expect. Understand that this was as traumatic for him as it has been for you. Take this time to show your teenager that you are willing to work through any of the difficulties he is having and that you accept his return with open arms. The following are some other tips:

  • Listen to your teen and take down any help that he may need since his absence such as medical attention and/or counseling.
  • Call all the people you contacted about his disappearance to let them know he is home.
  • Make a conscious effort to show how appreciative you are to have him home, that you love him and want to care for him as he wants to be cared for.
  • If your teenager is defiant, contact your local help line.
Teenage Runaways