HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Dealing With Teen Girls Who Run Away From Home

Hi Mark,

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before when it comes to teens etc everything you state in you initial page about teens and their out of control behaviour really does apply to my 15 year old girl…. And I do mean ALL of it. So thank you firstly for being a point of contact and believe me that I will do everything to gain more knowledge and power within my own family unit to enable my daughter to be able to make better choices in her life.

One question I do have is concerning persistent runaways – my 15 year old has runaway from home 5 times we had the police, authorities and even the school involved with trying to “help” her but to no avail, after the fourth time I ended up packing up and moving 1400 km away from everything we had known even becoming separated from her father (who she initially blamed for running away) thinking that a fresh start would help – obviously this hasn’t helped as the initial problem is still there (now she admits that it wasn’t anything to do with her father) and has not been dealt with effectively….

After only 5 weeks of being here, she is fighting and in trouble at school even a threat of suspension – has had ignored my “consequence” of not being able to go and stay over at her friends house for her continued violent and aggressive behaviour, instead smashed up her room, cussed as me with a fair few profanities and simply walked out stealing money and cigarettes on the way out!

I have not on this occasion contacted the police as I have previous times, instead I issued an ultimatum via text message (she wont answer my calls) that if she did not return by 6.30pm then the police would be called. She texted back to say she was fine and will return home in 2 days when she’s calmed down!!! I issued the ultimatum again…… and left it – as I say needless to say she has not returned and I have not contacted the police yet. The question is how do I deal with her on her return?????????

I need to get this right from the very start.

Thank you

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Hi L.,

Teens run for a multitude of reasons:
  1. To avoid an emotional experience or consequence that they are expecting as a result of a parental, sibling, friend or romantic relationship/situation.
  2. To be with other people such as friends or relatives who are supportive, encouraging and active in ways they feel are missing from their lives.
  3. To change or stop what they are doing or about to do.
  4. To escape a recurring or ongoing painful or difficult experience in their home, school or work life.
  5. To find companionship or activity in places that distract them from other problems they are dealing with.
  6. To keep from losing privileges to activities, relationships, friendships or any other things considered important or worthwhile.

As parents or guardians we strive to create positive, loving households in order to raise respectful, successful and happy adults. In order to achieve this, rules must be put in place. Teens who run away from home are often crying for attention. Some teens will attempt to run away just once, after an unusually heated argument or situation in the household, and return shortly after. More serious cases, however, happen with teens in extreme emotional turmoil.

Parents also need to be extremely aware of the symptoms, warning signs and dangers of teenage depression. Far too many teens are suffering from this disease and going untreated. Often, runaways feel they have no other choice but to leave their home, and this is in many cases related to their feelings of sadness, anger and frustration due to depression.

There are many causes of depression, and every child, regardless of social status, race, age or gender is at risk. Be aware and be understanding. To an adult juggling family and career, it may seem that a young teenager has nothing to be "depressed" about! Work for a mutual communication between the two of you. The more your teenager can confide his/her daily problems and concerns, the more you can have a positive and helpful interaction before the problems overwhelm them.

Teens who become runaways will have shown symptoms and warning signs prior to running away. Knowing these signs is the first step to prevention; the second is learning how to prevent symptoms all together. Communication is KEY!

Suggestions for preventative conversation:
  1. Always use direct eye contact when speaking.
  2. Anger is difficult to subside. However, it is important to never raise your voice or yell/scream at your teen, especially when they are already doing so. A battle of strength doesn't get anyone anywhere.
  3. If both parents are involved in the conversation, it is very important to take turns, rather than gang up on your teen together. Make sure each parent allows time for your teen to speak in between.
  4. If your teen is demanding or threatening you, be sure to get professional advice or help from a qualified mental health professional.
  5. Keep a calm demeanor and insist that your teen does as well. Do not respond to their anger, but instead, wait until they are calm.
  6. Keep in mind that it is possible to agree with your teen, without doing whatever they want you to. For example, you might agree that there are little differences between 17 year-olds and 21 year-olds, but that doesn't mean you agree with having a party serving alcohol at your house.
  7. Let's say you are sure you understand your teen's point of view and they understand you understand. If you still don't agree with their statement, tell your teen "I think I understand, but I do not agree. I want to think we can understand each other, but we don't have to agree."
  8. Make sure that you comprehend what your teen is saying, and when you do, let them know. Simply stating "I understand" can go a long way to making your teen feel as though you are respecting their feelings and thoughts, as well as taking them in to consideration.
  9. NEVER interrupt your teenager when they are speaking or trying to explain their feelings or thoughts. Even if you completely disagree, it is important to wait until they have finished. Keep in mind that just listening and using the words "I understand" does not mean that you agree or will do what they want.
  10. Never use threats or dare your teen to run away, even if you think they wouldn't do it.
  11. Refrain from using sarcasm or negativity that may come off as disrespect for your teen.
  12. Take a break if you get too overwhelmed or upset to continue the conversation with a calm attitude.
  13. Talk less, slower, and use fewer words than your teen.
  14. Under no circumstances should you use derogatory names, labels or titles such as liar, childish, immature, untrustworthy, cruel, stupid, ignorant, punk, thief or brat. Continue to be respectful of your teen, even if they have been disrespectful to you.
  15. When your teen has finished speaking, ask politely if they have anything else they'd like to talk about or share with you.

When parents begin to implement appropriate discipline for broken house rules, some children may respond by threatening to runaway from home if they do not get their way. If this occurs, defuse the situation, but do NOT threaten or challenge your child.

For example: Daughter, you know that I cannot control you. And if you really want to run away from home, I cannot stop you. I cannot watch you 24 hours a day, and I can’t lock you up in the house. But no one in the world loves you the way I do. That is why we have established these house rules. Because I love you, I cannot stand by and watch you hurt yourself by _______________ (e.g., not going to school, using drugs or alcohol, destroying house property), and running away from home will not solve the problem. You and I know it will only make matters worse.

Teens who run away are not bad. They have made a bad decision. They got themselves caught up in pressures that they felt the need to escape from. Instead of facing their problem and solving it, they chose to run from it. We need to teach our teen how to face their problems, even if the problem is us. When they have the right tools to fix some of the things that may be going on in their lives, the pressure lessens, and there is no more need for them to escape.

Every teen either has tried or knows another teen who has run away. I haven't met a teen yet who didn't know of someone's experience of running away. This can be a real problem, considering most teens will glamorize the experience.

Parents of teens who run away are not bad parents. You cannot lock them in. As much as you would like to build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not to walk out the door.

If your teens runs:
  1. Call the Police, IMMEDIATELY! Don't wait 24 hours, do it right away.
  2. Get the name and badge number of the officer you speak with.
  3. Call back often.
  4. Call everyone your child knows and enlist their help.
  5. Search everywhere, but do not leave your phone unattended.
  6. Search your teen’s room for anything that may give you a clue as to where he went.
  7. You may also want to check your phone bill for any calls they may have made recently.

When your teen comes home:
  1. Take a break from each other. Do not start talking about it right away. Your emotions are too high at this point to get anywhere in a conversation. Go two separate directions until you both have gotten some rest.
  2. Ask and Listen. Why did they leave? You may want to evaluate a rule or two after speaking with them, but do not do so while having this talk. Tell them you are willing to think about it, and you will let them know.
  3. Tell them how you felt about them going. Let them know that they hurt you by leaving. Let them know that there isn't a problem that can't solve. If they ever feel that running away might solve something, have them talk to you first. You could always offer other choices, so they can make a better decision.
  4. Get some help. If this isn't the first time or you have problems communicating when they get back, it's time to ask for help. This could be a person that your child respects (e.g., an aunt or uncle), or you may want to seek professional help.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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