Dear Mark Hutten,
I don't want to alienate my runaway daughter; I don't want to enable her. I haven't seen her since Wednesday morning. She does text me. I can't practice your principles because she's not here to practice them on. I want her to come home at night. When she has the baby, around Thanksgiving, I want to help her raise her and not have her dragging the baby around as she hangs out with whomever. I know where she works, I know approximately where her new lover lives. We own the title on her car. I need specific strategies and approaches, please.
Runaway teens, seemingly unmanageable, desperate, desolate, lonely AND alone… they run, in one of two directions:
1. Away from something, someone, a bad situation, perceived threat, disciplined unloving and/or abusive, or in more complex cases of troubled teen run-aways a loving home environment where there are for them, in their minds no real future; or maybe in the other direction.
2. Towards something, the unknown, safety, a life where they can live according to their own rules, not answering to anyone else, where they can be independent, make the rules, be their own boss, independence and freedom to do as they please and answer to no-one… the list could go on and on hypothetically speaking.
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.
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!
Here are concrete prevention tips:
- Always use direct eye contact when speaking.
- 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.
- 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.
- If your teen is demanding or threatening you, be sure to get professional advice or help from a qualified mental health professional.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Never use threats or dare your teen to run away, even if you think they wouldn't do it.
- Refrain from using sarcasm or negativity that may come off as disrespect for your teen.
- Take a break if you get too overwhelmed or upset to continue the conversation with a calm attitude.
- Talk less, slower, and use fewer words than your teen.
- 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.
- When your teen has finished speaking, ask politely if they have anything else they'd like to talk about or share with you.
If your teen runs away—
- Call every one of your teenagers friends. Talk to their parents first, not the friend. Teenagers tend to stick together and will not always tell you the truth. The parents will tell you if they've heard their child talking to yours on the phone and it will also alert them to watch for what their child is doing.
- Call your local Juvenile Detention Officer and ask for their help in finding out your rights concerning what you may or may not do if you find your child yourself.
- Call your local television stations. Many today are more than willing to run stories on missing teens since so many have been lured from home by 'friends' they met online.
- Check any local weeklies and online community papers; they are usually more than willing to help.
- Contact your teenager's friends, their parents, and school staff. Express concern and clearly state your willingness to work out any problems that might exist.
- Do not "storm" a relatively safe place that your child might be staying. If they run out the back door you'll have no idea where they are. They might also run to a less safe harbor.
- Do not threaten the school, friends, or parents. These people may be potential allies. They are the most likely to help if they understand, that you are willing to listen to your child and be open to other perspectives. Even though you're very worried, remain calm. Threatening statements or making accusations only reinforces the notion that you are an unreasonable person. If you have reason to believe that specific individuals are harming your child, pass that information onto the police.
- Go straight to the local authorities, be it police station or sheriff's office. Take with you the flyers you have made up, a copy of the id, color pictures and digital pictures on a floppy. Get in their faces. Do not just make phone calls, be there in person. Drive them nuts until they do something. Make them understand that you are a concerned parent and that you will not let them ignore the fact that YOUR child is missing.
- If your teenager is gone for over 24 hours, or if you have reason to suspect foul play, call the police.
- Make sure they list your runaway in the national database.
- Make sure you follow up and stay in touch with parents and the police. They are your best bet in finding your child and bringing them home.
- Make up one-page flyers that have a clear picture of your child's face and all information you have. Height, weight, age, last seen, etc.
- Post your flyers everywhere kids meet. Phone booths, soda machines, local hangouts, grocery stores, anywhere and everywhere that will let you.
- Put out the word asking that your teenager check in, just to let you know they are safe. You may want to offer an alternative contact of an adult you both know and trust.
- When you get home, call your local paper and ask if they will run a description and picture of your child. Tell them you will either bring them a flyer or email the information. Whichever option they prefer. Beg if you have to.
Regarding teen runaways, know that:
· 40% of runaways return home at their own initiative
· 50% stay within 1-10 miles of home
· 60% percent of runaway episodes last 1-3 days
· Forcing a child to come home without resolving the problem is likely to result in another runaway incident.
· The majority of teenagers who run do so because of a problem they perceive to be unsolvable
I hope this helps,