Approximately 1.6 to 2 million troubled teens between the age of 13 and 17 run away from home each year. The most common reason that troubled teens runaway is family resistance over such issues as curfew, truancy, behavior, dress code, academic performance, and the teen’s choice of friends. Troubled boys and troubled girls also may choose to run away because of problems they are afraid to face such as harassment at school, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or alcohol and drug problems. Some may also choose life on the street as opposed to continued living in a seriously abusive environment.
Troubled teen runaways tend to return within 48 hours to two or three weeks and usually move from one friend’s house to another. There are those, however, who go further and stay longer. If they take to the streets, the longer they stay, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Although they may be seen in runaway shelters or spend a brief time on the street, they usually return home within a few days. A small percentage may repeat this behavior and remain away for longer periods. If so, they become a part of the chronic runaway group.
Tips for Parents
- Spend time with your troubled teens. Keep busy in activities that suit their interests. Share your own personal experiences of things that you may have struggled with as a teenager yourself. Eat together as often as you can because a meal is a great opportunity to chat about the day’s events and to grow closer with your family. Use time for talk, not confrontation. Read, watch TV or movies, and surf the Internet with the troubled teens.
- Support your troubled child. Encourage your teenagers to get involved in fun, secure, pleasing activities. Help your kids recognize their strengths, talents, and interests and find opportunities where these abilities can be developed. Encourage them to volunteer in the community, join a youth group, or participate in arts or sports. Such activities will give them a sense of accomplishment, connect them to positive peers and adult leaders, and–not least of all–keep them busy.
- Help troubled teens to gain self-confidence. Self-confidence is earned, not given. Give kids opportunities to learn skills and gain confidence. Praise your child for jobs well done, emphasize the positive, and focus on the things your child does right. If they fail, advise ways to grow; don’t criticize. Affection and respect will support good behavior (and change bad) far more successfully than fear or embarrassment.
- Cook up some fun. Everyone loves homemade cookies. Make your own cake or pizzas. Tacos can be a team-building activity. Someone chops, someone stirs, someone bakes, and everyone eats. Use the time to teach a new skill and catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
- Laugh. Rent some childish, slapstick movies. Borrow a karaoke machine. Crank up the music and teach your teenager dance steps of your generation. Hold a contest to share your lamest jokes. You can’t be mad at each other if you’re too busy laughing!
Pay attention to your teens. Listen when your kids are talking with you. Don’t just move your head up and down while you’re watching television, reading the paper, or using your computer. Don’t just pretend to listen to them, because kids know the difference.
- Give respect. Recognize and support your teen’s struggle to grow into adulthood. Try to understand what your children are going through. Look at life, at least occasionally, from their point of view. Remember that when you were their age, your ideas seemed to make sense to you.
November is National Runaway Prevention Month. Let’s get involved and do our part to create a safe, secure and loving environment for our children. The best way for them to feel loved and wanted is through family, teacher, and community engagement.
- National Runaway Safeline
- National Safe Place
- Tuscarawas County (OH) Job & Family Services Runaway Prevention Handbook
- National Runaway Prevention Month Community Action Kit