Mom To Runaway Teen: 'You Suck The Life Out Of Me'
How to Deal With a Runaway Teen
If your child is a teen runaway, or you think they might become one, there is a problem. Before you jump to the conclusion that they are just a bad kid, or lecture them or grow angry, determine what really pushed them in this direction. There are ways you can open a line of communication with your teen to improve the situation.
Understanding the Reasons
Establish an immediate open dialogue with your teen instead of just punishing them.This also means that you should dig into the deeper issues, not just the superficial ones, that could have caused them to run away.
- If the teen won’t talk to you, find a professional (therapist, school guidance counselor), religious figure or other relative to reach out to the teen so you can start to figure out what is really going on. Try to sit down and talk with your teen first in a compassionate way.
- Most instances of teenagers running away are in response to a specific problem or stressor that teens feel they can solve by leaving home (e.g. bullying, bad grades, home pressures, pregnancy or substance abuse). You should determine whether there is a legitimate problem or just a power struggle.
Figure out the exact nature of the teenager’s concerns.Some disorders a teen could be dealing with include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and many other disorders. While you may be aware of the problems themselves (or not), you might not be aware of how the problems are affecting your child. Sexual abuse is also a common reason teenagers run away (and must be reported to authorities).
- It’s possible there is something about your parenting style that the child is rebelling against. When was the last time you sat down and talked to your child about how they are feeling? They might push you away, but inside they really do want to talk. They just don’t know how.
- Teens could also be dealing with problems at school. You should do more research on your child’s school. Bullying is one of the main reasons for running away from home. Verbal and physical harassment such as hitting, fighting, abusing and even teasing can also be a big reason of troubled teenager’s problems.
Be honest with yourself about your home environment.Which environment is causing the teenager’s stress? Friend circles, school or home? You should do a clear and honest assessment about what it’s like in your home. If there is a situation where one parent is harming the child or parental fighting is causing a stressful home environment, get immediate help.
- Any harm toward a child – physical or verbal - should not be tolerated and must be reported to the authorities. Seek help from a therapist or religious leader too.
- Home violence or fights between the parents can also become a big problem in teens’ lives. Maybe it’s your marriage that needs improving rather than avoiding issues. Due to home violence or arguments, teenagers may feel depressed and abandoned. This kind of helpless feeling may force them to go away from home and also can encourage them to become an alcohol or substance abuser.
Show your teen unconditional love.It might be better to respond to running away with love instead of anger. Letting your teen know that you love him or her unconditionally and want to help could be more effective than creating a judgmental home environment. They will be more likely to open up and tell you what is going on.
- Some homeless or runaway teens are LGBT and are worried their parents won’t accept them. If they are LGBT and worried you don’t accept them, or if you actually do not accept them, reassure them that you do and work on achieving acceptance of who they are.
- Hug your teen a lot and tell your teen you love him or her. Praise and reward positive behaviors. This is a much more effective response to running away than punishment and yelling.
Speak warmly and positively to your teenager even if you’re upset.Do not belittle, dismiss or invalidate the teenager’s feelings, even if the feelings seem weird to you. Things that seem inconsequential to you may actually be the worst thing that has ever happened to your teenager.
- If you feel emotionally ready to do so, tell your teen that you would like to meet with them. Take them out to lunch or dinner. Ask how they are doing. Try to make your time together pleasant. Ask lots of questions but keep in mind that if you are taking an accusing tone, you are likely to put them on the defense and get no good answers. Why did they think this was the only way to be happy? What was their plan to survive and make a living on their own? What led up to this? Was it planned or impulsive?
- Be patient. Whatever the problem is, screaming or jumping to punishment will probably just make it worse. Give them time clean up, eat and sleep before addressing any issues, as emotions are high for both of you, and they are probably tired, hungry and dirty. When you talk to them let them know how hurt and worried you were. Before you talk about a problem, make sure they know that you want to sort it out together. Show that you are willing to compromise to their needs and help solve any problems, whilst till upholding ground rules and values.
- When it comes to teenagers running away, the best thing you can do is teach your teen, through your words and actions, that problems are to be faced and that running away creates more problems than it solves. Part of showing unconditional love is to be present. If you are always at work or distracted, try to make your teenager feel like more of a priority in your life.
Making Running Away Less Likely
Create boundaries that your teenager understands.Although you should make sure that any rules are age appropriate and clearly explained, most teenagers really do need some reasonable boundaries. Too much freedom can also cause rebellion. It’s a balance.
- Explain why being a runaway teen is risky, and educate them about the dangers of it. Make clear why this is not something that is okay and that you do not approve of it. Make sure they know that you are open to assisting them to work through problems they have at school, with their peers or with you so they can prevent being a runaway teen.
- Don't give in to misbehavior if they threaten to run away again. They may just use such threats as a way to get out of following the rules. You need to determine whether there is just a power struggle going on or a deeper problem. Help your teenager develop problem-solving skills.
- Provide clearly explained boundaries. Uninvolved parents who grant their teenagers too much freedom can give the impression to the child that they do not care. This can be a recipe for rebellion. Lay specific ground rules for your teen while letting him or her know that the only appropriate solution is to come to you rather than running away.
Encourage new activities to give your child a new outlook.Encourage your child to pursue a wholesome or just positive new activity, such as learning to play a musical instrument or mastering another language or a craft.
- Perhaps you get the child involved in a youth support group or in religious activities or in a sport that will give them more of a focus or direction. Talk to them about this first, and make sure it’s something that matches their interests.
- If they are being bullied for a specific reason (their glasses, the way they do their hair), help them improve their hygiene or look if they want while making it clear to them that bullying is never acceptable.
Revisit the rules you’ve set for your teenager if necessary.Your instincts might tell you to relax the rules because your teenager says you are too strict. Sometimes it’s good to be strict. You can set rules that are firm even if your child chafes against them, but it’s also OK to revisit them in an open discussion with the teenager.
- A teenager is less likely to rebel when parents set reasonable rules and discuss the rules with them. Having an open conversation about the rules and why they were set could make a difference. Make sure that you understand the situation clearly before deciding whether to administer loving discipline and how to do if it is needed.
- Consider whether your rules are too inflexible or no longer age appropriate. For example, “because I said so” might be enough explanation for a young child but adolescents often need more – they need reasons. Maybe it’s time to relax a rule or two now that they are 15 not 8.
- At the same time, it is important to exercise firmness for what is right. Many parents have found that they occasionally face a battle of wills, but they cannot give in when their decision is well-founded or anchored in positive values. However, if your teenager asks for an adjustment to his or her curfew, listen to him/her as he presents his case. A teenager who knows that he or she has been fully heard is more likely to respect and comply with the decision you make.
Monitor signs that your teenager might be planning to run away.There are certain behavioral changes that could indicate an intention to run away, although teenagers do sometimes run away without warning.
- Packing bags, and stowing money, food, and valuables can all be signs of running away.
- He or she may also threaten to run away, withdraw from family activities or seem to always disagree with you. If you notice any of these signs, take steps to reach out to your teen, and consider family counseling.
Getting Outside Help
Seek help from a professional therapist.Sometimes families are too embarrassed to share their problems with outsiders. However, if your teenager has already run away, or if you see warning signs that they might do so or are depressed or troubled, it’s absolutely time to seek counseling.
- If they have a mental illness, don’t try to deny it’s really a problem. Help them seek out an appropriate mental health professional. Encourage them to see a doctor. Some issues require medical intervention. Recognize the signs of depression.
- If you suspect your teen as a drug or alcohol problem that is causing them to leave home, help them try to get clean. Do your research, and see a professional right away.
- If your teenager has tried to run away because of a romantic partner, talk about it with them. Talk about the choices that led up to it. Sometimes abusers seek to isolate a person from their family. Forbidding a teenager from seeing a particular person almost never works, unless the situation is such that it is reasonable to place a restraining order on the partner or if they are overage. If you are dealing with such a situation, contact police.
Contact the police right away to get help when your teenager goes missing.The number one concern should be to make sure your child is safe. It is important to create the paper trail immediately. Running away can be very dangerous for teenagers.
- The police can determine whether the teen has actually run away or whether something even more dangerous has occurred – such as an abduction.File a missing person's report.
- You could also call a crisis line staffed by professionals trained in dealing with teenage runaways.
- Contact their circles of friends and family. Ask all family and friends to keep an eye out for them. Look for clues for where they went. What did they take with them? Are there clues on social media?
- When your runaway teen comes home, spend some time away from each other before you address the problem. Once you have both cooled off enough to be objective, as your teen what drove him or her to run away, and listen. Lecture is only going to breed resentment.
Reach out and know the people in their other worlds.You should know who your teenager has befriended and socializes with, including peer groups in and outside of school. Pay attention to the little things (movies they're watching, books they're reading, music they listen too).
- You need to know who their friends are and actually meet them. Ask them if they have a boy/girlfriend. If they do, invite them over for dinner.
- Know what your teen is doing on the Internet, and on social media sites. This is a way that teenagers become in contact with people who might be a bad influence to them. It also gives you a window into their psyche.
- Talk to their school guidance counselor. They may have seen behavior or have a perspective on your teenager’s problems that will be informative to you.
QuestionMy teen runs away repeatedly. Now he's 18 and we don't know what to do. He doesn't have any reason to not to contact us, and he doesn't.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHe is a teenager. Teenagers grow and they want to explore. He might have run away because he wants something or feels something is missing from his life. Ask him what he wants. It may be that he just needs to learn something very important the hard way. Just let him know that you are always there for him if he needs you.Thanks!
QuestionI had a fight with my sister and she left. What should I do to get her to come home?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you can get in touch with her, apologize to her and tell her what she means to you.Thanks!
QuestionMy cousin went into social services and doesn't want to talk to family. How do I get in touch with him and slowly rebuild a relationship where he knows he can trust and say anything to me and I won't rat him out?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can tell him he can trust you, and then you can tell him one of your secrets so that he knows that you trust him.Thanks!
QuestionWhat about a situation where the teen's homeless because one parent won't allow that teen to live in the home?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCall Child Protective Services. They will most likely place the child with other family members or with a foster family.Thanks!
QuestionIf my teen has become violent and run away on several occasions, should I have the police return him only to either have him run away or become violent again?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf your teen is acting out violently, he made need to see a therapist to learn how to deal with his anger issues. This will likely only get worse as he becomes an adult, so be proactive about seeking help for him now.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I handle it if my child's friend needs a place to stay because they got kicked out by their parents?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends. If it's for a relatively mild reason and they're likely to patch things up pretty quickly, invite them to stay on your couch for a day or two but make sure they know it's temporary. If it's something serious (the child was abused, the child was kicked out for being gay, trans, etc.), you might have to get social services involved. Of course, you're not absolutely required to do anything, it's all up to your discretion.Thanks!
QuestionMy cousin (15 years old) left home and doesn't want to keep in touch with or go back to his immediate family. We were always close, how do I let him know I'm fine with that, want to keep in touch and won't snitch or send him back?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf he left not too long ago, maybe he just needs space for now. If you feel the time is right, you could try putting your feelings down in a note/letter and giving it to him.Thanks!
QuestionMy friend wants to runaway and I don't know how to help or if I should tell an adult. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerI've been through this and I really thought I would lose my friend. I talked to her and she wouldn't listen to me so I had to talk to my parents. My mom talked to her parents and my friend didn't talk to me for two months because I "betrayed" her. I think she went to a really good psychologist. We are finally friends again, but it took her a little while to come back to me. Support your friend, show him/her that you won't let go and eventually tell him/her to talk to his/her parents.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do to help if I think my sibling may possibly run away?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerConfront your sibling, but not in an accusatory manner. Be gentle, understanding, and compassionate; try to see the situation from their perspective. Acknowledge and validate any hurt or anger they may be feeling, but encourage them to cope with it in healthier, more productive ways. As a last resort, alert your parents to your fears so they can keep a closer eye on your sibling.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I stayed at a friend's house, but they didn't know I ran away? Could they get in trouble with the law?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHarboring a runaway is illegal, so there is a chance they could get in trouble, even if they didn't technically know you were a runaway. It would be best to just be honest with your friend so they can make a decision for themselves about whether or not to let you stay with them.Thanks!
If you’re dealing with a runaway teen, contact the police immediately and file a missing person’s report. Look for clues about where they might have gone, like what they took with them or what they’ve said recently on social media. Ask family and friends to keep an eye out for them. When your teen comes home, try to talk openly about what made them run away. Be sure to tell your teen you love them unconditionally, and show them, too, with lots of hugs! Need more help? Don't be embarrassed to look into therapy.
- You can do a search yourself for the laws in your state on the Internet and searching the term "runaway" or what ever the term for your state would be and find out what the law says
- A teen runaway is a call for help. In some form, they can no longer handle what is in their lives threatening them. They are looking for a way to run, to hide or to start over because something is pushing them to do that.
- Don't feel guilty. It's not productive. You do not have to be a "bad parent" to face a runaway teen. Yet, what you need to be is an open parent who will welcome your teen runaway back into your home and work on repairing problems so that they will stay at home with you.
Video: Parents Plea For Two Runaway Teens to Return Home
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