As part of National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) in November, we looked at why youth run away. There are different reasons why kids and teens flee from their homes, with strained family relationships often at the core. Almost half (47%) of teens experienced conflict at home that caused them to run away. Many don’t feel like they are welcome at home or able to return after they run, leading them to our youth shelters and other homeless support systems.
As a parent, you can help your child return home. You can find them after they run away and take steps to rebuild your relationships. Use this information if your teen runs away so they can safely return to you.
What to Do if Your Child Threatens to Leave
As a parent, you need to determine whether your child’s threats to run away have any merit. While you want to take any plan to leave seriously, you need to know whether they are making grand statements to get a reaction or if your teen really plans to leave the house.
“Adolescents often see running away as a way to achieve a sense of power and independence,” James Lehman, MSW, writes. “They don’t understand that it’s false power and independence, however, because they can’t take care of themselves in a legitimate way on the streets.”
There is often a triggering event when your teen runs away. This could occur during a heated argument and is a turning point when your teen feels like they cannot spend any more time under your roof and their flight instincts kick in.
If your teen starts packing to leave, take steps to calm them down. You need to have a level head and rational approach because they might be acting out of anger or fear.
- Try to keep your child in the house. Ask them to sit down and think about what they are about to do. Stay calm and encourage them to calm down as well. You need your child to realize that they don’t have a long-term plan if they leave.
- Listen and make them feel heard. If you can get your teen to tell you what is wrong – and believe them – then they may be willing to take other steps that don’t involve running away.
- Use persuasive language and try to convince them to stay. Encourage them in a way that shows they can face whatever is ahead and explain that being an adult means facing their problems.
- Provide alternative solutions. If they are determined to leave, suggest positive alternatives that will keep them from running away. For example, you may suggest driving them to stay with another relative or a friend for a few nights until they have calmed down. Family Resources SafePlace2B shelters are also a positive option, giving teens the safe space they need and intervention to help rebuild family relationships.
It will be much harder to find your child and convince them to return home or accept a solution once your teen runs away. They are better able to cut off contact and you might not be able to find them.
Many parents don’t have the luxury of preventing their teens from running away. The child will either leave at night or run away when they are supposed to be at school.
Essential Steps When Your Teen Runs Away
As soon as you realize that your teen has run away, take steps to find them and make sure they are safe. At times, you may be tempted to hide the news or play it down as a private matter, but your child’s life and safety are at risk. Every hour counts when they are gone.
- Spread the news. Reach out to your family, their friends, your neighbors, and other community members to let them know to look for your child. You will want to alert your child’s school so they can look out for your child. Also, call the police and file a missing person’s report – or get the information you need to start the filing process.
- Check their favorite spots. This includes restaurants, parks, rec centers, and other local hangouts. They may just need some time to blow off steam nearby. You can also get on social media to look for clues as to where they are or who they saw last.
- Search their room for information. Did your teen have time to pack a suitcase before leaving? Did they grab sentimental items or did they pack up their clothes? Do they have any money on them? This will give you an idea of how long they plan to be gone and the resources at their disposal.
Not only will these actions make it easier for you to find your child, but they will let them know that you care and are desperate to get them back.
How to Handle Your Teen Returning Home
You are likely nervous about your teen returning home – and they are probably terrified. They don’t want to be punished for their actions and aren’t sure whether you want them back. The first few days after they return are crucial for re-establishing your relationship.
- Alert everyone that your child is okay. Contact the police, your child’s school, and friends on social media to let them know that your teen is okay.
- Give them time to decompress. You don’t need to have a serious discussion as soon as they get home. Both of you need time to destress from the experience. Make sure your teen gets a hot shower, some clean clothes, and a warm meal. Give them the night to sleep in their bed and recover from running away.
- Let them know how much they matter. Share how you love them and want to help them through their problems. Say how happy you are that they are back.
- Listen. Once your child is ready to talk, ask about why they left. Learn what triggered their behavior and where they ran to.
- Validate your emotions, too. Your teen has been through a lot, but so have you. You are allowed to express how scared you were when they are gone and how you wish you could help them solve their problems.
- Take steps to address the problem. Running away does not solve problems. Create a real plan with your teen to address the issue and come up with responsible solutions. This may involve changing schools, getting therapy, or learning to face an uncomfortable situation.
Whether your teen runs away chronically or this is the first time they have fled the home, consider seeking out therapy to help them develop healthy coping mechanisms and to guide them to the path of healing. Family Resources offers family counseling for kids and teens, as well as their parents. Learn more about our services and how we can help you.