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Runaway Teenager – Brutal Truth On What To Do When They Come Home

In this article, we will talk about some brutal truth on how to deal with a runaway teenager when the child returns home. It will be hard for some loving parents to read, but if you truly want to help your teen and prevent this from happening again, it is a must read.

What is a runaway

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a runaway child is a youth who leaves home without permission and stays away overnight. However, some of these runaways are actually thrownaways who are told to leave home or prevented from returning home by the parent.

Why do teenagers run away

There are a lot of myths on the internet about why teenagers run away from home. Most of them paint a picture of rebellious teens who don’t want to follow the house rules or they want to go on an adventure. These suggestions cannot be further away from the truth.

In 1986, OJJDP cosponsored a study in Toronto, Canada, where running away was not considered a criminal offense, to understand the cause of teenagers running away from home.

Among 149 adolescents who entered a shelter for runaways, a staggering 73% reported having been physically beaten, and 43% reported being physically abused by people they lived with as an important reason for leaving their homes. In addition, 40% reported having been attacked or raped​1​.

No matter if there is child abuse at home, the primary reason teens run away is because they don’t believe home can protect them from the problems they’re trying to escape.

Home should be a safe haven for children. It is our responsibility to provide our children with security and protection so they will return to their “safe base” when they face danger.

Unfortunately, when the threat or problem originates from home, this becomes impossible, and that is the real reason for running away.

A teen runaway is a call for help​2​. It’s not a power struggle or manipulative  behavior. Your teenager doesn’t just need to “learn problem-solving skills” to deal with their “frustration”. They need a safe home to return to.

teenage boy sit on the ground with a backpack

What to do when your runaway teenager comes home

Teenagers sometimes run away for complex reasons. This list doesn’t intend to be exhaustive, but it should shed some light on how parents of teens can help during such a stressful time instead of exacerbating the situation.

1. Identify the source of insecurity

Something led your teen to believe they couldn’t come to you for help and instead ran away. Find out what the underlying issues are.

Find out if they are being threatened or abused. Often, children are abused right under our noses without us realizing it​3​.

Do illegal drugs or alcohol play a role? What about mental disorders?

Family issues caused by harsh parenting or family conflict could be another reason. These stressors could cause psychological harm and make the teen feel mentally unsafe.

Until the threat is removed, your teenager won’t feel secure, and will likely run away again. Take action and address the threat.

In addition, it goes without saying that you should not punish your teen. Punishment doesn’t make anyone feel safe. Who wants to return to a family that punishes you instead of helping you?

2. Get family therapy. Build trust.

When your child is facing danger or a difficult situation, they should be able to turn to you for help. If they didn’t do that, chances are they didn’t trust that you could help, for whatever reason (for example, poor communication). 

You have to address the trust issues.

Getting family therapy can help you identify the crux of the issue, and help you and your teen work toward a solution.

3. Seek therapy for you

Could your behavior constitute a threat to your teenager? Yelling or punishment, for instance, can lead to an unsafe environment as well as damaged relationships, and not to mention, the broken trust between you and your child.

If you want to fix this problem and have a happy family, you may want to step back and ask yourself if you are part of the problem. Therapy can help you do that constructively.

Seeking therapy doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about rebuilding the connection and trust in your relationship with your teen.

4. Be a support, not a threat

If your child has suffered physical abuse or sexual abuse, notify the law enforcement agency immediately.

In an abusive situation, you need to help them get through this difficult time. Make a conscious effort to show them your love and support.

If your child was abused, it’s not their fault. Do not blame your child for what happened. They are the victims. Grownups are responsible for protecting their minor children and they should not hurt them. Period. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are.

5. Get therapy for your child

If your child has experienced abuse, they need extra support. Seek help from the mental health professional. Talk to the school guidance counselor to find more resources.

Also, look out for signs of mental health issues. If your teen suffers from mental illnesses, it’s even more important to provide a stable home environment and ensure that your child feels loved and supported.

teenage girl sits on stairs buried her face

Final thoughts on how to deal with a runaway teenager

A runaway child is at a significant risk of teen pregnancy​4​, delinquency​5​, sexual exploitation​6​ and suicide​7​. Create a safe environment for your child in order to prevent them from running away. 

The brutal truth is that no child runs away from a loving parent who has built a strong trust between them. If your teen doesn’t feel that way, you have to do something about it. It is difficult to hear this. But if you really want to help your child, you need to know about it. Blaming teenager hormones or weird adolescent phases won’t solve the problem.

Need Help Motivating Kids?

If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.

It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate in learning.

Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.


References

  1. 1.
    Janus MD, McCormack A, Burgess AW, Hartman C. Adolescent Runaways: Causes and Consequences. Lexington Books/DC Heath and Com; 1987.
  2. 2.
    Kurtz PD, Kurtz GL, Jarvis SV. Problems of maltreated runaway youth. Adolescence. 1991;26(103):543–555. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1992-09393-001
  3. 3.
    Kellogg ND, Menard SW. Violence among family members of children and adolescents evaluated for sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect. Published online December 2003:1367-1376. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.10.008
  4. 4.
    Thompson SJ, Bender KA, Lewis CM, Watkins R. Runaway and Pregnant: Risk Factors Associated with Pregnancy in a National Sample of Runaway/Homeless Female Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. Published online August 2008:125-132. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.12.015
  5. 5.
    Kim MJ, Tajima EA, Herrenkohl TI, Huang B. Early Child Maltreatment, Runaway Youths, and Risk of Delinquency and Victimization in Adolescence: A Mediational Model. Social Work Research. Published online March 1, 2009:19-28. doi:10.1093/swr/33.1.19
  6. 6.
    Saewyc EM, Edinburgh LD. Restoring Healthy Developmental Trajectories for Sexually Exploited Young Runaway Girls: Fostering Protective Factors and Reducing Risk Behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health. Published online February 2010:180-188. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.06.010
  7. 7.
    Greene JM, Ringwalt CL. Youth and Familial Substance Use’s Association with Suicide Attempts among Runaway and Homeless Youth. Substance Use & Misuse. Published online January 1996:1041-1058. doi:10.3109/10826089609072286

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