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She has walked out again even though I said that she was grounded...

Hi Mark,

We seemed to be moving along ok (not great) in the last few weeks. About 3 Saturdays ago, my daughter went out (with permission) but never came home until 7 am the next morning. She was not contactable on the phone (claims her mobile phone battery was dead) and we had no idea where she was. We called her boyfriend, George, and even he didn't know her whereabouts. I believe they had a fight and this is usually how these incidents start. She was grounded for 3 days, which didn't work because she refuses to comply with the grounding. It ends up being a joke because whenever we say that it will start from day 1 if it is not adhered to, she just scoffs at us. We then took away all her clothes and make up but she started coming in and taking my stuff. I tried to put away as much as I could so she started getting things from her friends.

Last night (Saturday) she was at her boyfriend's house. His father has told her not to come there so he rang me as soon as she showed up. He has told her repeatedly not to go there and has asked me to keep her away. She does not respect anybody's wishes. Anyway, I went over to pick her up. I started talking to George and she slipped out the door and we couldn't find her. She spoke to George on the phone but wouldn't tell him where she was. So really, nothing happened except that she was found out. She refused to answer my calls all night and then her phone was off because she says her battery died. We've told her many times in the past, just let us know where you are and who you're and we need to know what time you'll be back. She finally came back at 2.20 am. This morning when we said we wanted to talk to her, she was rude and just said "get over it" and walked off. She has been grounded for 3 days with no phone and computer privileges as well.

She promised that she would never do this again. She has walked out again even though I said that she was grounded and if she left then it will have to start from day 1 again. She kept walking without looking back. She refuses to take any responsibility for her bad behaviour. We have tried the assignments and it seems to get better but then when things don't go how she wants them to, she starts up again.

What is the next step? She never lets us know where she is or whom she's with. She's 16 but seems to only hang around with older boys who have cars. Every time I ask her what time she'll be back, she always says, I'll be back when I'm back. I don't know because I don't know what I'll be doing. When I say, then I'll tell you that I expect you to be back at this time, she never comes back at that time. She just doesn't care.

Please advise what we do next.

Thank you,

J.

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Hi J.,

As adults, we have learned to face whatever problems are before us and meet them head on in an attempt to solve them. However, teens may not have that skill and may feel overwhelmed, scared or confused. Running away is an attempt at resolving or escaping from some problem. Finding out what that problem is offers the first and most important step in preventing a teen from leaving home by running away.

Teens may use running away as a means of getting attention, resolving an argument or even as an attempt to make their parents feel guilty or scared. Yet, too often parents take light of what their teen states regarding running away. If your child is threatening to run away, take time to consider what the underlying problem might be. If your teen threatens to run away, don't be intimidated. Let her know that you’ll call the police and speak to each and every one of her friends’ parents in order to find her. Let her know that you will do whatever you have to do to get her back – no matter where she goes.

What you don't do in trying to prevent a teen from running away is almost as important as what you should do. As teens have usually already made up their minds regarding what they feel they must do, the next steps taken can often be critical. Telling your teen to go ahead and run away because you know they will be back or telling them that their reason for wanting to run away is not a very good one are two things you do not want to do. As there are too many dangers in today's society to take a chance that a teen may not make it back home makes the theory of reverse psychology very risky.

If you tell your child that their reason for wanting to run away is not valid, you’re missing the point. Your child evidently thought it was a good reason. It is better to listen to your child's concerns and take appropriate steps to solve those concerns. In addition, personal attacks on your child's character – stating that they will never amount to anything if they think they can just run away from their problems – will add to his/her resentment. Criticize the behavior, not the whole being of the person.

Explain the dangers of running away. Although most teens will come home after a short period of time on their own, there are some that do not – or cannot. Use news reports of runaway children as an opportunity to teach ahead of time how serious and dangerous running away from home is. Don't worry that you might give your child ideas she otherwise wouldn't have – you won't.

Share how you feel about running away. Use statements such as: “Most kids don’t run away from home, but when they do, it is often because there is a serious problem at home, and the child does not believe he can talk things over with a parent. I want you to understand you can always talk to me. And I want you to understand that running away is very dangerous.”

When a teen threatens to run away it may not be in spite, in anger or in retaliation – it may just be the only solution the teen can find for an undisclosed problem. Talking about the reasons why a teen may want to leave the security of their home may offer insight into how to keep them there – safe and sound.

If your child does bring up the concern, take it seriously and empathize when appropriate. Knowing the underlying cause of the situation leading up to the want to run away from home can help a parent prevent it from happening.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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