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Teenager Running Away

Teen RunawayGrowing up isn't always easy, and as teens edge ever closer to adulthood, they can face a wide variety of issues. Even teens who seem well-adjusted and come from relatively stable environments face challenges daily in social circles and at school, A bevy of hormones, life changes and new responsibilities don't help with the stress that can come with growing up. Teens who are already dealing with other issues, including difficulties at home, substance abuse, addiction or mental health concerns, might find it even more difficult to navigate these challenges.

These struggles can lead teens to runaway from home. Whether you're a parent dealing with a teen who seems prone to running away, your teen has already run away or your child runs away on a regular basis, it's natural to be worried or frightened. Other natural reactions can include guilt, anger or being overwhelmed, but understanding teen runaway issues, how running away can be linked to other problems, and what actions you should take can all help you get through this time and provide support for your child.

If your teen is frequently running away and is facing substance abuse or addiction issues, then getting to the root of the problem through treatment can help resolve the running away. For more information about specialized addiction treatment for teenagers, call The Teen Treatment Center at (844)319-5239.

What to do when your teenager runs away

If you're teenager has run away, then it's important to take action immediately. While parents might feel for runaway teens and even understand some of the issues that drove them to such action, it's not usually a good idea to wait out the situation or hope they return home.

When Can You Wait

The one exception to this rule is if you know, for a fact, that your teenager is somewhere safe and with people that care for him or her. For example, if your teen has run away and you are certain they have ended up at the home of a very close friend or relative, then you don't necessarily need to call the police and may be able to address the situation within the family or with the help of mental health or substance abuse professionals, depending on what the situation involves.

When Should You Report

In all other situations, if your minor teen has run away from home, then you should report the situation as soon as you are aware of it. Runaway laws in some states, not including Florida, do make it illegal for someone under the age of 18 to run away. In other states, running away isn't illegal, so law enforcement wouldn't be able to pursue your teen from that perspective.

Some parents might not call authorities right away because of television's portrayal of the 24-hour rule. It says that police can't do anything until a person has been missing for 24 hours, but that is not the case when a minor has gone missing. In fact, federal law forbids law enforcement from abiding by such a rule in these cases; according to the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990, police must take action immediately upon receiving a report that someone under the age of 18 is missing or has run away.

Because even older teens who can drive can be at risk when they have run away from home, parents should:

  • Call 911 or the local police department as soon as they believe a teen has run away
  • Take down the name and badge number of the person you speak to and exchange contact information
  • Write down any instructions provided by law enforcement agencies
  • Call the sheriff's department for your county and neighboring counties
  • Check in with friends and relatives to see if anyone has heard from your teen
  • Send someone to check regular hangout spots
  • Call various missing children and runaway hotlines, which might provide assistance getting notifications out on social media and other channels so people can be looking for your child

Police and other local officials will likely have other instructions. It's important for parents to cooperate fully with law enforcement to increase the likelihood a teen is found.

Teen Runaway

Why would a teen run away?

Family problems are the top reason teens give for running away, but that category contains a wide range of issues. It might mean strict rules that the teen feels are unfair, fighting with parents or siblings or even fights among other members of the family, for example.

Teens might also run away in an attempt to escape difficulties, stress or problems. If they are facing a particularly rough time with friends or social situations or dealing with difficulties in school, they might run away in a desperate act to obtain relief. Other reasons teens run away include physical or sexual abuse at home, school or in social situations.

Some teens also report running away because they perceive differences between themselves and their family or social circles that are insurmountable — even if that isn't the case. For example, many runaways identify as LGBTQ, and some teens who are in transfer situations — including in and out of foster care or simply moving or changing schools — run away because it seems easier than dealing with the changes.

Is a teenager running away common?

Runaway teens are more common than you might think. According to studies, one in seven children age 10 to 18 will run away, with girls more likely to run away than boys.

Warning signs that your teen might try to run away

Runaway Teen on StairsAny change in habits or behavior that aren't otherwise explained could be a sign that your teen is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. While these challenges don't always lead to running away, they often do, so it's important to address concerns as they arise.

If your teen's browser history is full of sites and searches on "how to run away from home", that's a clear sign of his or her potential plans. Other signs might include:

  • Stocking up on money or other supplies or carrying items with them, such as carrying a larger-than-normal bag
  • Asking whether anyone would miss them if they were gone
  • Giving away personal items
  • Problems with behavior or attendance at school or part-time jobs
  • Changes in mood or eating or sleeping habits

The link between runaway teens and substance abuse

Studies published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have repeatedly shown a connection between runaway behavior and drug or alcohol use. In one study, which included 432 teens who had run away or were otherwise homeless, 71 percent presented with a substance abuse disorder.

Substance abuse can be a factor in why teens run away from home: they might be worried about what will happen if anyone finds out or believe that running away is the easiest way to solve problems that triggered drug or alcohol use. Teens who have run away might also turn to drugs and alcohol to help them deal with problems.

When to seek treatment for underlying problems

It's important to talk to your teen about running away if they are displaying signs that they might run or if they have previously run away and are now home. Instead of confronting them with anger, embrace them with love and attempt to discover why they want to run away to begin with.

If your teen is running away in part because of substance abuse or mental health issues, let them know that there are other options. Talk to them about treatment and how you will support them throughout the process, and then call The Teen Treatment Center to find out about options for admission.

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