It’s a situation that can break your heart and fill you with so much fear. Your teen has run away from home.
Perhaps this is the first time, or maybe it’s something you’ve experienced on more than one occasion. Your teen running away from home can leave you with so many questions, concerns, and hopes for a solution that will keep your teen at home with you.
Do you know why your teen is running away from home?
With an understanding of what motivates this behavior, you’ll be better positioned to understand what can be done to address it.
Common reasons teens run away
In truth, you may not know the true reason for your teen running away. They may have something going on that you don’t yet know much about. That said, there are commonly seen reasons behind teens running away. One of the most common reasons is a history of abuse in the house.
Other causes include:
- Problems within the family, including arguments over poor grades, money, or strict household rules.
- Troubles at school, whether struggling with grades, teachers, or bullying.
- Alcohol or drugs can contribute to a teen running away.
- Faced with an unplanned pregnancy and a family that would not be supportive.
- Coming out as gay and feeling unsupported at home can also contribute.
- Changes in the family dynamic, including a new stepparent, a new baby, or loss in the family.
Some teens may feel pressured to run away by friends or a romantic partner. This situation can be more difficult for a parent to intervene in, particularly when a romantic partner is involved.
Signs that your teen may be thinking about running away
Learning some of the warning signs that your teen could be considering running away may give you some time to intervene and help them before they leave.
Is your teen avoiding spending time around the other members of the family? This could also be a sign of depression.
Does it seem like you and your teen argue and disagree about everything?
Does it seem like your teen’s behavior and emotions seem to be out of the norm and even out of control?
Does your teen spend time with peers who are a bad influence?
Does your teen make statements about not fitting in, not belonging, and wanting to run away?
If you start to recognize some of these signs in your teen, try and communicate with him. You may even consider getting help from a therapist before the situation escalates.
How can you keep them from leaving?
If your teen is determined to run away, there’s not much you can do to keep them from doing so unless you physically restrain them.
That said, there are a few things that you can try to convince them that staying at home is the safer and better choice, including:
- Communication is a key part of any relationship. Keep an open mind and open heart when your teen comes to you with any issues.
- If your teen begins to speak with you, don’t interrupt him. It can be hard to hear some of the things that he is struggling with, but it’s important that he be heard and that he feels heard.
- Approach his concerns as problems that you can help him to resolve. Offer up plenty of praise when he does his part to work on a resolution. You truly can’t praise your teen too much when it comes to recognizing when he takes a positive step forward.
- Don’t raise your voice, yell, or make threats to your teen. This will only make him feel anger or fear and may make him want to leave just that much more.
- Check-in with your teen often. Ask how he’s doing, ask if he needs anything, ask if there’s anything he wants to discuss. This will demonstrate that you care, that you’re interested, and that they can trust you.
- If your teen has been struggling, or your family has been in conflict, consider getting counseling for everyone in the family.
- Let your teen know that it’s okay to make mistakes. There’s no mistake that you can’t work through together as a family. The key is to reinforce to your teen that you will love him no matter the mistakes he makes.
If things are out of control and your teen is determined to run, you may need to consider alternative options to protect your teen.
Providing a safe space
If the situation seems like it is declining to the point that your teen will run away no matter what you say, some alternatives can help protect your teen.
- Tell your teen that you understand they are feeling the need to flee. Explain some of the dangers they may face if they do leave your home.
- Remind your teen of your strong desire to connect and communicate with them. Remind them that you can only help them with their struggles if they open up to you and trust you.
- Be sure that your teen understands that if they do become overwhelmed and run away, they are always welcome back home so you can help them work through their concerns.
An alternative is to provide them with a safe space to escape to. Have a conversation with a trusted family friend or member of the family. Perhaps their home can serve as a safe harbor for your teen when things become too overwhelming.
Another option is to offer your teen access to a hotel room instead of staying with strangers or sleeping on the streets. The goal is not to let your teen take a vacation in a pricey hotel but rather to get that much-needed break from the overwhelming stressors he is struggling with within his day-to-day life.
Your teen has run away. What do you do next?
Intervening early and offering your teen the valuable help he needs can help to prevent a family relationship from deteriorating. Whether your teen is prone to running away or this is the first time you’ve needed to face it, there are a few things that you can do.
What to do if your teen runs away:
- Search your property to ensure that they are not just seeking refuge in the attic or basement.
- Call the police as soon as you can verify that your teen is missing. You don’t need to wait 1-2 days before reporting your underage teen as being missing.
- Reach out to your neighbors, friends, family members, and teachers at your teen’s school. The more people aware of your teen’s situation, the more help you can get for your runaway.
- Track their location with the GPS inside of their smartphone (if they have one). At the very least, you can check on their call logs to see who they may have been calling.
- Search your teen’s bedroom and social media accounts for anything that may help you find them.
You may also want to make and distribute posters and details about your teen throughout your community.
Call Child Find of America to register your teen as missing. 1-800-I-Am-Lost
Call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 1-800-The-Lost
A teen that runs away constantly may need more help than you can provide. Time in a residential treatment center that allows them the security and safety they need can help your teen work through those challenges they face.