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Runaway Teenagers

Many parents are equally concerned about the prospect of their teens’ rebellious nature taking a turn for the worse: running away. Although there are no clear-cut indications that may warn you that your child is thinking of leaving home, there is information that exists on the situations they are faced with when they do decide to leave.

  • Demographics: Research indicates that six to fourteen-year-old males run away the most from home while females who run away the most from their homes do so between the ages of ten to sixteen years. 
  • Repeat Incidents: Running away from home more than once in a repetitive fashion exhibits a desire for the teens to change the power structure at home to a one that gives them more control. Since it is not an easy task to leave home, teens may consider running away time after time instead of disappearing altogether at once, never to return. They do so in order to dilute the control their parents have over them. Knowing their child’s runaway tendencies, parents are likely to surrender some aspects of their power. 

Repetitive runaway sessions may also point to the presence of some unresolved issues in the family. Given that they are willing to take on the challenge of living alone at such a young age, their behavior may be indicative of their desire to feel protected, free or relieved. Also, provided how old they are and how many resources they have to be on their own, their absences may vary from a few days to a few months. Not surprisingly, though, a circumstance that might result from repeat incidents of running away and their report to law makers is a teen being placed in a foster care home.

  • Cathartic Release: A few instances reflect that teens who leave home are likely to do so in order to release some built-up emotions resulting from a sense of anxiety. For example, a young college student disappeared from his dormitory for a period spanning some weeks. In the meantime, he cohabited with people who shared the same age and mind as him and stayed in hotels away from the city, while cutting all sorts of correspondence with anyone he knew back home or at the dormitory. After a few weeks, he got back to his life at the dormitory with a burning desire to escape once again from the cycle of coursework and other college-related activities.
  • Returning Home from an Institution: If a child feels unsafe in a foster home or a shelter, they may defy court orders to return back to an environment they are familiar with. They may at times feel like staying away from someone with whom they carry some level of attachment such as their parents, preferring to be in the company of complete strangers.

What We Know So Far?

  • Teenagers need to be explained that running away does not promise an end to their problems. While it could be a necessity in situations where personal safety is threatened, it cannot still resolve any long-lasting issues. Even though they tried to escape, they realized that their problems seemed to have followed them back, no matter where they went. 
  • Families with runaway teens should try and rely on efforts aimed at reconciliation. It may be important to seek help from external services in assimilating a teen back into the family.
  • In itself, running away cannot be termed good or bad in all cases, given that at times it may be crucial to run away to save oneself from physical and psychological dangers. What’s worse is that some teens find out that interventional services only help in compounding their issues as they do not seem to address the principal causes of the family problems affecting them. Service providers should be mindful that solutions to cases need to be customized according to the closeness of a teen with their family members. It may be necessary to look at the needs of all the familial stakeholders involved with special emphasis on victims of any physical or psychological abuse. 
  • While runaway teens have reported finding someone to stay with in times of escape from home or swap goods with, it is seldom that they may find someone who doesn’t have any ulterior motives. Running away carries some inherent dangers. Moreover, the relationships developed in their time of escape are mostly periodic in nature.

Author Bio: Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of, ghostwriter at, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.

Brian Harris

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