What Can You Do When Your Teenager Runs Away from Home?
Mary Lynn, age 14, ran away from home because she said she didn’t like living with her parents. However, for several weeks prior to running away, her mother and father were aware of changes in her personality. She was more withdrawn, was skipping classes at school, lied frequently, and was angry much of the time. It wasn’t until she ran away that her parents discovered she had a boyfriend and she was involved in drug use.
Boyd, age 16, left home after an argument with his stepfather. The argument became physical and his stepfather punched him in the face. Boyd stormed out of the house saying he was never coming back. Before this argument there were several altercations between Boyd and his stepfather, with several resulting in his stepfather hitting Boyd with his fists or a belt. Boyd had been determined to stick it out at home because he loved his mother, but he just couldn’t take the abuse by his stepfather.
Lejeanne, age 15, ran away after she was slapped by her mother during an argument about her school grades. Lejeanne said she wasn’t going to live in a house where she was abused and she preferred to live with people who loved her and respected her. Leajeanne and her mother didn’t have many arguments, but their arguments when they occurred were often intense that often left both of their crying.
It is not uncommon for adolescents to run away from home. Often, they return home within a day or so, and the problems leading to the truancy get worked out. However, in general, teens run away from home because of communication problems between themselves and their parents.
But sometimes, as in the case of Mary Lynn, there can be other factors that lead adolescents to want to leave home. Many teens are abused by a parent. This is especially true for girls who experience physical or sexual abuse. For some, like Mary Lynn, they have difficulty making the transition to adolescence and may get involved with older boys, seek out peer relationships with negative peers, or may begin using drugs or alcohol. These same adolescents may find the rules at home too restrictive and prefer to live elsewhere so they have more freedom and independence.
Sometimes, because both the teen and his parents need a cooling off period, allowing them to spend a few days with a friend or a relative can lead to a successful reunion when they return home. This was true for Lejeanne, who accused her mother of abusing her. While their argument clearly got out of hand, there was no pattern of abuse in the relationship. When Lejeanne had a few days to calm down at her grandmother’s house, she realized this and returned home. At home both Lejeanne and her mother apologized to each other and talked about ways to keep their disagreements and arguments under better control.
But suppose your adolescent doesn’t want to return home?
This is exactly what happened with Mary Lynn.
Her mother recognized that they needed to rebuild their relationship with each other and talk about what she was experiencing and why she ran away. However, before she returned home, she began hanging with her previous friends who were older, more involved in drugs, and uninterested in school. While Mary Lynn’s mother thought they were making progress in their phone conversations, Mary Lynn told her mother she wasn’t coming back home. She said she would run away again if forced to live at home or with a relative.
When a teen is below the age of 16, they really don’t have much choice but to return home and try to work out the problems. A teen can be reported to the police as a runaway and a complaint can be filed with the juvenile court. Obviously, teens are minors and incapable of making decisions about their life. But the purpose of a police report and a juvenile court complaint is not to punish a teen or get them in trouble, but to force them to return home and for the family to get help.
A runaway adolescent should be regarded as a symptom of a family problem and the help should involve the parents and teen seeing a therapist. If you file a complaint in the juvenile court and the case is accepted, the adolescent is likely to be placed on probation with specific restrictions. Since parents can’t stop a determined teen from running away, some back-up help is needed. That’s where a juvenile court can be helpful.
Knowing your Child’s Friend’s Parents can Pay Dividends
When Marianne’s mother announced at dinner that she was going to the PTA meeting that night, Marianne found a time to talk with her as soon as dinner was over.
“I know you’re going to be talking to Amy’s mother at PTA tonight,” Marianne said, “so I thought I better tell you that me and Amy got in trouble at school today. And we have to serve a detention after school tomorrow.”
“Weren’t you going to tell me about it?” her mother asked.
“Yes, I probably would have sooner or later,” Marianne said. “But when I thought about you talking to Amy’s mom at PTA tonight, I thought I better tell you before she – or someone else – told you.”
Then there was Bobby. Bobby’s parents were very involved in hockey, baseball, and the school orchestra. Bobby was acutely aware that at every game and every orchestra rehearsal his mom and dad socialized with the parents of his friends.
If Bobby failed to tell his parents about a poor grade on a test, a reprimand from a teacher, or a conflict with a coach, they always heard about it from someone else.
“I might as well tell you everything first,” Bobby said to his father one day. “I know you’ll find out everything I did from someone’s mom or dad.”
When you are raising a child, no matter how good your child is or how close the relationship you and your child share, there are likely to be things that you are not told by your child. This will be particularly true when your child is an adolescent.
But that’s normal. Teenagers are breaking away from their parents and becoming more independent. They frequently withhold information or avoid answering your questions. Often, they feel that your questions about their life are meant more as interrogation than as friendly conversation.
It may that your child or teen has little to hide, yet as a parent, you may feel left out. Indeed, there may be essential things you should know that they somehow don’t get around to telling you. Consequently, to play your role as monitor and guidance counselor, you may need more information than what she’s voluntarily sharing with you.
You will increase your chances of getting vital information by maintaining relationships with other parents and even with their teachers. When your child knows you will be talking to other parents, as well as to her teacher or her principal, she may decide to tell you things first. Just like Bobby and Marianne did.
As a parent, it is reassuring to know that you’re going to learn things from someone. By having more information, no matter who that information comes from, you are in a better position to act in your child’s best interest.
It can also be reassuring to know that you can talk to other parents at school events or that you can call your child’s friend’s parents at any time to check things out.
Although your child may never admit it, it has to be reassuring for him to know he cannot get away with very much. It takes pressure off your child when they know they can’t hide their actions while hoping no one tells on them. It has to be comforting as well for a teenager to realize they can rely on you to do your part by acting on information that is readily available to help keep them in line.
When teenagers know you’re going to find out about their behavior, they are less likely to make poor decisions and betray important family values. Furthermore, it takes the guesswork out of situations for them. They don’t have to try to predict whether you’ll learn something disappointing or worrisome. They know you’ll always find out.
Finally, knowing nothing can be hidden means that they can avoid peer pressure by telling others that they can’t do something because their parents will find out. It’s a handy excuse when they want to bow out of questionable behaviors or actions.
My Advice: Don’t Ever Offer Advice to Your Teenager!
If there is a good rule of thumb in parenting teenagers, it is this: Resist giving advice – even if your teen asks for your advice.
If you are the typical parent of an adolescent, I’m sure you have thought more than once about why your son or daughter never listens to you and never seems to want – or use – your great advice and well-considered suggestions.
Also, again if you are a typical parent, you probably have found it difficult on various occasions to stop yourself from giving advice when it seemed to be called for.
For example, Heidi heard her daughter Samantha talking to a friend about posting something negative on Facebook about somebody they both knew. Later, Heidi said to Samantha, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that. You don’t know what could happen as a result of saying something about people on a social media site. It could all go horribly wrong.”
To which Samantha replied: “Get over it, Mom, it’s just Facebook.”
And when Paul tried to give his son Eric suggestions about his basketball playing, Eric’s responses were nearly always the same: “Whatever.” And Paul never saw any indication that Eric heeded his advice.
But to not give your teen any advice, doesn’t that contradict conventional parenting wisdom? Aren’t good parents supposed to support their adolescents and communicate with them?
Well, yes, that much is true and is certainly well-founded conventional wisdom. But the next question is more important: How often do teenagers want your advice? And, as a follow up question, how often do they actually ask for your advice?
Assuming again that you are that typical parent of a teen, you might not be able to recall very many times your teen actually solicited your advice or suggestions – on any subject. Instead, your perception is probably just the opposite. That is, while you have lots of good advice that you’re ready and willing to share with your teenager, most of the time she isn’t willing to listen to it.
Of course, there is a developmentally appropriate reason for this. Since they are becoming more independent and autonomous, they would like to feel more grownup. If they asked for your advice or took your opinion into account in making decisions, it might make them feel like a younger child – and not like the adult they aspire to be.
However, I do know that adolescents — on occasion — seek advice from their parents. There are some good reasons for this, too. One reason is that no matter how often they act like they don’t care what you think or how much stored up wisdom you have, the fact is they still do look up to you. But because of them desperately needing to break away from you and be their own person, they can’t really acknowledge this.
On the other hand, there are those times when they have a momentary loss of belief or faith in their own capabilities. They, then, may be looking to borrow your belief in them until they can restore it in themselves. However, the catch-22 here is that they can only regain faith in their own abilities by working out their own problems.
Which often means that while you should probably not waste your time giving unsolicited advice, you should also not take a teen’s request for advice too literally.
I have another rule of thumb that applies to such situations: Don’t ever give advice to your adolescent until the third time they ask for it.
If you start with “What do you think you ought to do?” or “What do you want to do?” and they give adequate responses to these questions, but they still want to know what you would recommend, you can assume they are serious and truly do want to know what you would advise.
If you follow my two rules of thumb you might find out what a parent I know discovered. After following my rules for dealing with teenager’s requests for advice, she commented: “The less advice I offer, the more my son talks to me.”