Runaway Teen: What Parents Can Do
It came as a complete shock – your child has run away. Running away may be an “easy way out” at the onset, but teens do not realize the dangers he is exposing himself to when he runs away from home. Runaways expose themselves to prostitution, homelessness, substance abuse, illnesses, sexually-transmitted diseases and physical abuse.
Running away may seem attractive and adventurous to a teenager who is overwhelmed with pressure and stress at home, at school and from peers and parents. Why do teens run away from home? Aside from peer pressure and family issues, teens can run away as a bid to demonstrate his independence or seek his parents’ attention. He may be grappling with issues regarding his involvement with gangs or drugs, questions about his sexuality or issues about his mental health. In some cases, the teens did not run away but simply skipped or went to a party or road trip without telling his parents.
Prevention is Best
As parents, you need to be aware of the possibility of a runaway teen and work to nip any tendencies of this in the bud. You need to also be on the lookout for red flags that point to your child’s propensity towards leaving the safety of your home. Here are some red flags to be on the alert for:
– Heightened negative behavior. A teen may be prone to moodiness, fits of temper or may withdraw from family interaction. This may be normal – but then again this may not. Watch out if the “usual teen behavior” is more pronounced. Your child may be quick to fall into fits of anger or get into fights with you or his siblings in such a way that the whole family is negatively affected. He may start withdrawing more and more, staying in his room and avoiding other family members.
– Signs of substance abuse. Is your child lethargic or exhibiting signs of being intoxicated with alcohol or high on drugs? If your child who has been responsible or at least, completing the minimal work required of him, suddenly flake out on family and school responsibilities, it can be a warning sign. In addition, be on the lookout for mysteriously missing objects of value such as jewelry and electronic gadgets. Your child may resort to stealing to support his addiction.
– Signs of depression. This includes apathy, lethargy and drastic changes in eating habits and weight. Your child may also make statements regarding his feelings of worthlessness and about suicide. Your child may even attempt suicide. Another red flag will be a previously active child has suddenly lost interest in hobbies and activities he previously enjoyed.
– Problems at school and authority figures. Have you recently received notes or calls from the school about instances of truancy, violence or other forms of problems with school authorities? How about the changes in your child’s grades? Your child’s academic performance is a good indicator that your child may be involved with a gang, substance abuse or a cult. Instances of shoplifting, DUIs or arrests can also point to the possibility of a runaway teen.
– Indications or disclosure of the child’s intention to run away. Your teen may already be saying or that he wants to run away or threaten to be legally emancipated before he reaches 18. He may also start hoarding key resources that will help in his running away – money, food and clothes.
As a parent, you need to be aware of what is happening with your child and how he feels. Even with the struggles you have with your teen, you should work to maintain a loving and stable relationship with him. When you make your child feel that they are free to voice out their opinions and feelings, you can glean valuable insights about them and possible reasons why they may run away.
Keep tabs on your child’s daily activities, as well as their friends. This includes getting to know who your child hangs out with. It can also be helpful to get to know the parents of your child’s friends. Also, as an added precaution, keep your child informed about his options if he does run away. There are youth shelters that can allow them to stay for a limited number of days – after that, the shelter is required to notify you about your child.
If there are behavioral issues that need to be resolved, you should also consider getting professional help. Getting counseling or therapy can go a long way in helping your child come to terms with his emotions and what is going on around him. You can also consider enrolling your child in a troubled teen program. There are a number of options that may work for your child and address his specific needs. This includes a teen Christian program or a teen wilderness program.
When Your Child has Run Away
Now, if your child has run away, you also need to act quickly. You should tell loved ones and friends, as well as the families of your child’s friends, in case they have information about your teen. This way, they can also call you if they get news about your child’s whereabouts.
The police also need to be notified. You may be asked to file a missing persons report. Once this is filed, you get an additional level of protection for your child. Homes that allow him to stay or that keep his whereabouts a secret may face legal consequences. When filing the police report, it is important to let the police know if your teen has a mental disorder so that the police are aware of any issues.
You should also call the National Runway Switchboard. In the event that your child calls the 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline, they will be able to relay your message. They can also provide assistance with transportation so that a child is returned home safely.