A staggering one in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. More concerning, it's a spur of the moment decision for more than 70% of runaways, reveals the National Runaway Safeline. For that reason, parents often see little, if any, sign that their child might go missing.
So, be aware of the causes and signs to watch for and take preventative measures. Also, learn what to do if your child does flee.
Causes of Running Away
Kids run away for numerous reasons. Many suffer from verbal, physical or sexual abuse. Even when the situation isn't abusive, kids who run away often feel neglected and lack financial and emotional support at home. They also may experience frequent conflict with their families.
Other kids who run away may have drug or alcohol addiction problems or are trying to escape the addictions of their own parents. Teen pregnancy puts girls at high risk of running away. Also, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual teens may run away as a result of family rejection. Foster kids frequently run back to their own families, and mentally ill youth are at high risk as well.
Finally, some kids run away because they don't like their parents' rules.
Signs A Youth Might Flee
Warning signs that a kid is planning to flee aren't always present. Even when there are signs, most of these behaviors can be attributed to other causes. Parents often don't realize their child is considering running away. But there are some telltale signs.
The most obvious is when a youth threatens to do so. While it may be an attempt to manipulate in the heat of an argument, threats should be treated as a serious warning sign. Your adolescent may also start hoarding money; valuable items might disappear from the house. You might notice your child keeps a bag or backpack filled with clothes. Your teen may also become more secretive or start staying away from home as much as possible.
The most important thing you can do is provide your child with acceptance and love. Your adolescent should feel loved whether receiving straight 'A's or failing at school. A gay or pregnant teen needs acceptance from the family. If your teen has a drug addiction, give the message that while you hate the addiction, you still love him.
Communication is another preventive measure. Show you care by asking your kids how they're doing or how things are going on a daily basis. This can help your child to open up. Make sure your adolescent knows he can talk to you about whatever's going on. Teach him how to speak calmly and express himself clearly – and always respond in kind. Also, ask how you can improve the situation enough so your adolescent will want to stay.
If your child threatens to run away, ask what's going on and why your adolescent wants to leave. Then try to address those concerns. Also, discuss the risks involved with running away. They include:
- the long-term impact of not finishing school
- drug or alcohol problems that often develop
- the potential for falling victim to human trafficking, committing crimes as a means of survival and ultimately landing in jail or prison
What to Do If Your Child Runs Away
- Call your local police and make a report immediately.
- Make reports with your sheriff and state police, as well as the police stations in neighboring communities.
- Contact everyone your child knows, including friends, parents of their friends, relatives, coworkers, classmates and school staff.
- Try to access your child's social media accounts, school locker and thoroughly search their room for possible clues.
- Contact their cell phone provider to see who they've recently called.
- If your teen has a debit or credit card, contact the bank for details of any transactions.
- Hire a private investigator.
- Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST and the National Runaway Safeline at 800-RUN-AWAY.
- The California Youth Crisis Line (CYCL) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the statewide emergency response system for youth (ages 12-24) and families in crisis. It offers toll-free confidential telephone linkage in multiple languages to resources for runaway children or for any youth considering running away. Call or text 800-843-5200.