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Preventing Teenagers From Running Away: 15 Tips For Parents

The teenage years can be a tumultuous time, and as many moms and dads know, it is also a time when teens begin to flex their mental muscles, testing boundaries, and turning to peers rather than parents for advice. Sometimes emotions and arguments can become so intense that things get out of hand and the teen runs away.

Reasons Teens Run Away—

It may be hard for a mother or father to understand why adolescent’s runaway, so here are a few reasons that may help you to understand:

1. The adolescent may feel like she has to escape and get away from home to avoid something bad from happening (e.g., maybe you have been fighting a lot and she feels she just can’t go through it again …or she may be afraid you will be mad at her for something she did wrong or rules she disobeyed …or she may feel like you won’t forgive her so she has to leave).

2. An adolescent may be afraid that something bad might happen if she doesn’t leave home (e.g., living with a step-parent that she fights with a lot, the step-parent may make her feel like everyone would be happier without her).

3. The adolescent may feel that you “don’t understand,” and she may runaway to be with others that will let her just “be herself” (whether it is right or wrong).

4. An adolescent may runway to meet someone you told her to stay away from.

5. Sometimes just plain being lonely and begging for attention will cause an adolescent to runaway.

Other reasons teens run away include:

• abuse (violence in the family)
• arrival of a new stepparent
• birth of a new baby in the family
• teenagerren or parents drinking alcohol or taking drugs
• death in the family
• failing or dropping out of school
• family financial worries
• parents separating or divorcing
• peer pressure
• problems at school

Periodic vs. Persistent Running Away—

It’s important to distinguish between teens who run away periodically, and those who are persistent runners. The reasons behind the actions are quite different, and it’s critical to know what they are:
  • Periodic Running: When your teenager runs away after something has happened, it can be viewed as periodic running away. It’s not a consistent pattern, and your teenager is not using it as a problem-solving strategy all the time. It's also not something she uses to gain power. Rather, she might be trying to avoid some consequence, humiliation or embarrassment. Some teens leave home because they were caught cheating in school or because they became pregnant and were afraid of their parents’ disapproval.
  • Persistent Running: A teenager who consistently uses running away to gain power in the family has a persistent problem. Know that persistent running away is just another form of power struggle, manipulation, or “acting out” (a very high risk “acting out”). She may threaten her parents by saying, “If you make me do that, I'll run away.” She knows parents worry, and for many, it’s one of their greatest fears. Some moms and dads may engage in bargaining and over-negotiating with their teenagers just to keep them from running away. But understand that teens who threaten to run away are using it for power. This not only gives them power over themselves, but power over their mother and/or father. When parents give in to threats of running away, their teen starts using it to train them (e.g., a mother will learn to stop sending her teen to her room if she threatens to run away each time it happens). A teen who persistently threatens to run away is not running away to solve one problem – she is running away because that is her main problem-solving skill – she’s trying to avoid any type of accountability.

Red Flags—

Even though you can never really know for sure what an adolescent may be thinking, there are signs that you can look for that can help alert you to possible problems:
  • Does she avoid spending time with the rest of the family?
  • Do you ever agree on anything, or does it seem you only argue and fuss all the time?
  • Does your adolescent act strange, or have extremely emotional feelings that are out of control?
  • Has your adolescent been hanging out with bad company (e.g., peers who drink alcohol, use drugs, or other adolescents that just go out to look for trouble)?
  • Is your adolescent acting withdrawn and completely unsociable?

If you notice these signs, it would be wise to try and communicate with your adolescent, even if you have to get outside help to do so.


Unfortunately we can’t completely prevent adolescents from running away, but here are a few suggestions that may help:

1. Always approach something as a problem that needs to be solved, and reward your teen when he’s able to do it successfully. Be sure to say things like, “I liked the way you solved that problem. The teacher was mad at you, but you went up and apologized.” Praise your teenager when he does something positive.

2. Don’t scream and yell, or threaten your adolescent, this will only make him want to leave more.

3. Give a warning by saying, “Listen, if you run away, I can't stop you, but it's dangerous out there. I won't be able to protect you. So not only will you not solve your problems, you'll also be putting yourself at risk.”

4. Have a system where you check in with your teenager frequently. Just stop and ask, “How's it going?” …or “Is your day going O.K.?” You can say this two or three times in one day; go by their room and knock on the door. That way you're constantly giving her interest and affection. You’re saying in a roundabout way, “I'm interested in you, I care.”

5. If you don’t agree with your teenager, at least listen to her side, then calmly give your side. If things start to get out of control, take a break

6. If you feel your teenager may runaway, you can seek professional help with counseling.

7. If you think your teenager is at risk of running away or you know that her friends have done so, you want to sit down and have a talk. You could say, “If you become upset and run away, don't hesitate to come back and we'll talk about it.” If your teenager says, “Talk about what?” …say, “Talk about how to solve the problem differently.”

8. If your teen is very upset about something, you could say, “So what's so bad about this that you can't handle it?” After she tells you, you might say, “You've handled situations like this before. I’m sure you can do it again.” As a parent, you're not “giving in,” rather you're trying to persuade your teenager that she is O.K.

9. It's also good for moms and dads to say, “It's okay to make mistakes around here.” Make it clear to your teen that “the way we handle mistakes in our home is by facing up to them and dealing with them.”

10. Teach your teens “problem solving” skills. Ask them, “What can you do differently about this problem? What are some ways we can deal with this problem?”

11. Try not to interrupt your adolescent when she does come to you to talk …sometimes it helps the most to just listen. Show your adolescent respect and keep communication open by listening to what she has to say. Explain how much you love her, and that you will always be there for her.

12. When you talk to your teenager, don't ask her how she's feeling – ask her what's going on. All teens want to argue about how they're feeling—or they want to deny that they’re feeling anything at all. Often parents get stuck there. So instead of, “Why are you so upset?” try asking, “What’s going on? What happened that made you want to leave?”

13. When your teen threatens to run away, respond by saying, “Running away is not going to solve your problems. You're going to have to take responsibility for this. And if you do run away, you're still going to have to face this problem when you come home.” Then tell her what will solve her problems.

14. Don’t get tossed into panic-mode that your teenager will run away and you will never – ever – see her again. Most homeless teens return home soon after they leave. The keys seem to be (a) maintaining relationships with pro-social or mainstream peers (non-runaways), (b) staying in school, and (c) the support of parents – especially a teenager's mother. All of these factors influence teenagers to return home. More than two-thirds of newly homeless teens leave the streets, resolve their family differences, and go home.

15. Most important of all, though, is early intervention before family relationships deteriorate and negative peer influences take hold.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Teens


Anonymous said...

My daughter now pretty much comes and goes as she pleases. She’s 14 and hasn’t been home since Friday morning. She signed an agreement that if her tongue were pierced she’d comply at home and at school but she broke this almost immediately. I know – I shouldn’t give credit but this wasn’t a biggie for me in that I don’t really have an issue with piercing (within reason). I told her that the consequence of not complying was that she’d spend Saturday night at home which she found amusing. As expected she just didn’t come home and wouldn’t answer her phone or my text messages. I have find my iphone on her phone and tracked her down just to make sure she was safe but she still wouldn’t come home. It appears she has now deleted the application off the phone so I can’t even check where she is. I think I know basically where she is but she says that the police won’t help me because I know where she is. She’s absolutely right. The police have told me themselves that they will only speak with her. I’ve cleaned out her bedroom of all entertainment and told her she’s lost all privileges but she doesn’t seem to care. There is no incentive to come home I guess but I have a younger son, almost 13, and an older one, 17, and they both need to see that it’s all fair.

I can contact DHS and she may end up in some type of residential care but she’s thrown this back at me and said that if that happens it will be my fault. I’m concerned about what she may be subjected to although it can’t be much worse than what’s going on now.

I’d like to abduct her and take her outback for about 6 months and have her counselled but that’s not reality.

I do believe she’s struggling with dealing with something. I don’t know what and I don’t think she does either but she’s not really interested in talking to anyone about it.

I’m concerned about drugs and alcohol because I know she has indulged in the past and tells me she continues to. I know she’s used speed, ice and marijuana.

She is in constant conflict with teachers at school and has been suspended numerous times and basically attends when it suits.

I have absolutely no control or even input and feel a total failure.

Can you suggest anything?


Mark said...

Re: My daughter now pretty much comes and goes as she pleases.

I actually covered this in Session #3 of the online version of the ebook.

In a nut shell... if she leaves without permission, she should be considered a run away... and dealt with accordingly.

Use the strategy outlined is session #3 (When You Want Something From Your Kid) ...instead of the example about dishes, plug in "running away."

You will want to take care of this immediately, because if she were to get injured while out and about, you could be charged with neglect and get a visit from a Child Protective Services case worked. So here running away doesn't just affect her. This is why it is important to contact police and advise them accordingly.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark

Working your programme been really positive for me. Generally things are better, and i am so much calmer and able to cope. But something came out of the blue 3 days ago which i need your advice about.
I am sure my daughter (age 16, still at school and only child) stole £10 out of my purse. Cant prove it but i am certain she did (has stolen money like this couple of times before). she denied this, claimed i must have lost it or someone else stole it). I grounded her for 3 days. Stopped her phone (as she refused to hand it over). I also stopped her access to internet and TV. Also said that she must do chores to pay me back (she has been earning £10 per week doing chores).
Since then she refused to be grounded. Leaving the house without permission. When she returns home at 10.30 goes to her room, generally dismissive, argumentative and stating she is refusing to be grounded as innocent. I had been keeping my poker face restating expectation of acceptable behaviour and walking away from her if tries to draw me into argument. Each time her 3 days has started again. My husband who is her step father (8 years) has been trying to support my approach, but their relationship has deteriorated over past few years, and he feels very frustrated and powerless. He feels she should be challenged more and her behaviour is unacceptable (which it is). Last night he completely lost his temper and they had a very intense argument. Next day my daughter said refuses to stay in the home and be shouted at it that way, and denies her behaviour was wrong in any way. She is angry that i did not “support” her, and i told her that her behaviour causes this frustration. This evening she packed small bag and left home. I tried to persuade her that this this was a mistake and would not solve the problem, following the guidance in workbook. She pitched up at her cousins (who is 20 and has always been close to my daughter and a positive influence). She said (via my niece) that not willing to return home. My husband and i agreed that no point going there to try to bring her back this evening as this could escalate things again. I have told niece to tell daughter that i will go over in morning with school uniform and take her to school. (tomorrow is Friday).
The advice i need is what to do tomorrow. I am concerned that my daughter will move on somewhere else (if niece refuses to allow her to stay longer, which she would only do if i asked her to take this stance). My daughter does have some relatives on ex husbands side of family who she would go to and who would allow her to stay, who would probably try to encourage her to return home but would let her stay (against my wishes) if she did not want to come home. My daughter does not see her natural father, He never took much of an interest and completely disengaged a few years ago.
Any how – What strategies can we use to get her to come home if things go on for more than a few days.
Thanks for you help

Mark said...

Re: What strategies can we use to get her to come home if things go on for more than a few days.

I think this is the wrong question to ask here.

You were doing very well as I read through the email (except I would ground her from her room, that is, lock the door and have her sleep on the couch).

In keeping with the philosophy behind the program, a better question in this situation would be, "how can I help her comply with discipline" (since she is refusing to accept a consequence).

You don't want to hear this - but "play her bluff." Assuming you read the eBook, we want our children to make mistakes. Why? Do you remember?.............

Because that is the ONLY way they learn. This is a golden opportunity for your daughter to see just how hard it is to function "out of the nest."

Stick to your guns ...keep starting the clock ...let her know she is loved but that the consequence for the issue in question is still waiting to be implemented and completed. AND if she wants to try to live elsewhere - let her make that mistake! (Do you want to take bets that she'll return home wiser and more humble in the not too distant future?)

Unknown said...

I could really do with some help on this my daughter is 14 and she's lied about being pregnant and haveing a abortion. She don't know that i know it's a lie so i belive that's why she can't face us. But she lies about everything she's told ss today she wont stay Inn the house on lockdown because she wants to be with her friends. In have seen posts of her drinking with groups in parks she's unaware I know all this. I get told to call the police all the time but they can't make her go home. She talks to me like dirt and will not do anything what so ever that's she's told. I'm emotion drained from the knowing she knows there nothing i can do to stop her running off. She come back for a bath or food then goes again. I have a family support but she don't care what they say she laughs at them. I really don't know what to do anymore always being the mum that just wants to know her kid is safe and feels like I'm a failure

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