Warning Signs: Actions you can take:

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1 Teen Runaways The National Runaway Switchboard, an organization that takes calls and helps kids who have run away or are thinking of running away, estimates there are 2 million teens between the ages of 13 and 17 that run away from home each year. Though most teen runaways return after 48 hours to two weeks and generally move from one friend s home to another, others remain on the streets never to return. Running away is a serious problem because there are those teens who choose to go further and stay longer. Trends show that females tend to return home sooner than males. Statistics show of the teens who remain away from home for months to years, an estimated 5,000 runaway youth will succumb to assaults, illness or suicide. To view your state visit According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, teens cite a feeling that their parents don t love them or that their parents are being too strict as the two most common reasons why they run away. Many teens leave home impulsively after an argument with their caregiver. Often they don t know how to express their feelings and believe running away will make their parents or caregivers come around. Others run away because they are afraid of punishments or they think their home has too many rules and limits. However, other teens flee because there is seriously something wrong in their lives. Experts caution that parents need to pay close attention to their children s behavior in order to pick up on warning sides that their child is considering running away. According to an article, Teen Runaways by Jean Hamman, teens may choose to run away because of problems that they are afraid to face, such as bullying at school, pregnancy, sexual orientation or alcohol and drug problems. The Nemours Foundation, a non-profit organization in Florida dedicated to improving the health of children, cited the following reasons why teens run away: Significant lack of family communication Feelings of not belonging or not being good enough Physical or sexual abuse Fighting or violence between parents Problems with parents or blended families (step-parents, step or half-brothers or sisters) Problems with non-parental living situation (other relatives, foster care or group home) Parental alcohol or drug use Loss of parent due to divorce or death Parental financial difficulty Moving to a new area or school during adolescence Friend or peer influence Power of gangs It is also important to keep in mind that not all runaways leave home by choice. According to Willie Little, Director of Youth Emergency Services, a non-profit agency that works with Department of Human Services (Philadelphia), many reasons teens arrive at the shelter is because they have been kicked out of their homes for bad behaviors. Teens are also kicked out of their homes for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender; or for not conforming to expected gender roles. Teens in foster care often leave foster homes to stay with friends or other relatives often feeling the need to be around familiar people, regardless of the reasons for them being removed from their family in the first place. To learn more about MN ADOPT and our efforts to ensure each child will have a permanent family, call or visit

2 Before running away, your teen s behavior will often give you clues to determine if he or she might consider leaving home. The Covenant House in Florida cites the following warning signs of a troubled teen on the verge of running away from home. Warning Signs: Extreme mood changes or rebelliousness Very poor self-esteem Withdrawal from family and long-term friends and/or new friends of whom parents don t approve Drop in grades or frequently skipping school Remarkable change in appearance, such as major weight loss or lack of attention to personal hygiene Isolation or depression Lying or stealing Beginning or increased use of drugs or alcohol Suicide threats Violent outburst Gang tattoos or paraphernalia Possession of a weapon What Parents Need to Know If your teen runs away the most difficult question parents may ask is, Should I go after my child or should I just let them come home when they are ready? The severity of the teen s behavior should be taken into consideration before making such decisions. Jean Hamman, author of Teen Runaways cautions if the troubled teen does not have a history of violence or abusive behavior then the family should make every effort to find the teen and bring them home or attempts should be made to open up communication so they know they can call in an emergency. Realizing your child has run away from home is filled with emotions, such as anger, fear and shame that others might think you are not a good parent. While some children run across state lines, statistics indicate most children stay close to home. In the event that your teen runs away from home, the Child and Youth Health (CYH) and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) suggests the following strategies for coping and locating your teen. Wherever your child has gone, there are certain steps that are necessary not only to ensure a safe return, but to protect both your rights and theirs. Try to stay calm. Remember, most runaways return of their own accord. Find out what you can about your teen leaving. Was it planned or impulsive? Did he or she go off with friends? Did your teen leave a note? What did he or she take with them? Work out whether you think your teen is likely to be safe. Think about where he or she could run to and what you know about why they left. Be prepared to make some changes. If no changes are made to make the situation better, your teen will likely run again. You may need a third person to bridge any conversation in the beginning. The fact that you are looking for your teen is reassurance that you care. It doesn t matter that you have to give in on everything but that you want to discuss ways to make life better for you all. Have an open door attitude to your teen s return. Actions you can take: Notify the police and file a missing person report. Keep records of all the details and stay in touch with authorities. Call the National Runaway Switchboard at RUNAWAY. Tell others your teen is missing. Let them know you are concerned as ask for their help and support. Contact your teen s friends or friends parents. If your teen is with friends, let the friends know that you are worried and that you want to talk with your teen about what is upsetting him or her. Don t leave messages that are threatening. Check records that may give clues to your child s whereabouts. Look at phone bills, activity,

3 credit card activity, bus or airline dockets, banks statements and employment records. Visit your child s school. Talk to the administration, security, teachers, or counselor for any useful information. Install Caller ID or other tracing methods, if available. Take care of yourself and your other children. This is a difficult time and you do not have to deal with it alone. Turn to the people you know and trust for support. The North American Missing Children Association says that developing a strong foundation of open communication with your child is key to preventing most runaway cases. Try these tips to improve your relationship with your teen: Pay Attention. Listen when your children are talking with you. Don t just nod your head while you are watching television, reading the paper, or using the computer. Don t just pretend to listen to them. Kids know the difference! Give Respect. Acknowledge and support your child s struggle to grow to maturity. Understand Your Child. Try to sympathize with what your child is going through. Look at life at least occasionally from their point of view. Remember that when you were their age, your ideas seemed to make sense to you. Don t Lecture. Everyone hates to be lectured, especially teenagers. We all respond more favorably to clear information and direction when we know that the questions we ask will be answered and respected. Don t Label. Useless labels will only confuse the real issues that you wish to address. Discuss Feelings. Talk about what it feels like to be a parent. Share with your child the things you need from them. Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings. When parents share their feelings, children know it is safe to share their own. Create Responsibility. Give your child choices, not orders. Help them to understand the consequences of her actions. When punishments need to be administered, try asking what they think would be appropriate. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and is consistent with other actions you ve taken in the past. Administer Positive Praise. Describe your child s positive and negative behavior and how it affects others. Be specific and give praise to reward good behavior. Positive behavior acknowledged is positive behavior repeated. Try to praise your child rather than criticize. Stop Hassling. Asking too many questions often shuts off information. Give your child the opportunity to volunteer his or her thoughts and feelings, while you show sincere interest without probing. Don t Always Give The Answers. You want your child to be able to find their own answers or solutions to problems. You can help this by not always giving them the answers. Instead, discuss options and help them to develop their problem-solving skills. Use Team Work. Work together whenever possible. Identify the problem and find mutually agreeable solutions. Once your child returns home after being gone it can be traumatic for both of you. Even if they were staying with friends or relatives, the time away was likely filled with anxiety. If your teen was out on the streets, it was probably terrifying for everyone and they may have feelings of shame and embarrassment for causing you worry. This is a time for mixed emotions; both of you will have to deal with the problems that made them run away and how to make sure it doesn t happen again. That will take hard work on both your parts. It will mean listening, compromise and communication. Effective communication is essential. Your teen needs to know their concerns are being taken seriously. It will take time to respect and trust each other again. Here are a few steps you can take to help make the transition easier.

4 What To Do When Your Child Returns Home: Be Happy They Returned. While you may be understandably very upset with your child, let your first words be calm and welcoming. Many teens stay away from home because they are afraid of the initial confrontation with their parents or caregivers when they return. Take a very long, deep breath and tell them you are relieved to have them home. Allow Time To Settle In. Most runaways have not had the luxury of consistent access to food or shelter while they were on the run. Perhaps a shower, a meal, a clean set of clothes or a good night sleep is the first thing you could offer. Get Medical Attention. If necessary, a visit to your family doctor may be the next step. Talk With Your Teen. Concentrate on how you can work together to prevent any repeat running behavior. Acknowledge that some problems take time and effort to improve. Make a commitment to finding a safe and reasonable resolution to the current problems. Make Follow Up Phone Calls. Contact anyone you called when your teen was on the run. Let friends and family know that they have returned home safely. If the police were involved, call them to let them know he or she is no longer missing. Look For Assistance. There are people and places in your community that can help. Counseling is helpful for everyone. Asking for help is a sign of strength and show you are taking the issues seriously. If you are a parent or caregiver in need of assistance, The National Runaway Switchboard created an interactive, 14- module curriculum called, Let s Talk. The program is intended to build life skills, increase knowledge about runaway resources and prevention, educate parents and teens about alternatives to running away and encourages youth to access and seek help from trusted community members. The curriculum is intended for grades 6-12 but can be adapted for broader use. Let s Talk curriculum can be downloaded by visiting Let s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum Modules Curriculum Communication and Listening Adolescent Development Personal Influence Peers Families: Roles and Responsibilities Runaway Reality National Safe Connections Curriculum Community Response and Responsibility Anger Management Stress Reduction Drugs and Alcohol Sexuality and Sexual Orientation Internet Safety and Fun Future Life Planning BOOKS Drugs, Runaways and Teen Prostitution by Clare Tattersall. Juvenile Nonfiction Kids on the Run: The Stories of Seven Teenage Runaways by James R. Berry. Political Science Our Runaways and Homeless Youth: A Guide to Understanding by Natasha Slesnick. Nonfiction Runaway Kids and Teenage Prostitution by R. Barri Flowers. Nonfiction Teenage Runaways: Broken Hearts and Bad Attitudes by Laurie Schaffner. Nonfiction

5 Other Online Articles Teenage Runaways For parents visit: For teens visit: Focus Adolescent Services Runaway and Missing Children National Center for Missing and Exploited Children National Children s Coalition National Runaway Switchboard 3080 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL Phone: (773) Crisis: (24 hours) Nemours Foundation Resources and Crisis Runaways by Robert Sieth, Connect with Kids. Running Away by W. Douglas Tynan, PhD Runaway Lives web site Teenagers Running Away by Denise Witmer, About.com Teen Runaways by Jean Hamman Parenting Troubled Teens U.S. Department of Justice Other Resources Homeless Runaways [ Teens ] - The top 10 reasons why young teenagers run away. Offers advice on what to do if you are thinking about running away including phone numbers of who to call for help. Life on the Run, Life on the Streets [ Teens/Mature Teens ] - Article describing the problems faced by runaways with details of the help available. Project Safe Place [ Kids/Teens/Mature Teens ] - Offers a youth outreach program that makes immediate help available to teens any time of day or night.

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