What Can You Do When Your Teenager Runs Away from Home?

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 She was more withdrawn, was skipping classes at school, lied frequently, and was angry much of the time.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.

What Should You Do if Your Teenager is in an Abusive Relationship?

What Should You Do if Your Teenager is in an Abusive Relationship?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called teen dating abuse a serious problem in the United States. Research suggests that at least one in four adolescents experience verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during dates each year. Nearly one out of every 10 high school students say they’ve been physically hurt by someone they were dating.

I frequently hear from parents who are aware their teenager – often a daughter – is being abused by a date. For instance, Roberta revealed her concern about her 16-year-old daughter Elaine.               “Elaine has been going out with a boy for several months,” Roberta explained, “and I know they’ve had many arguments. However, this boy has a terrible temper and he’s hit her more than once.

“She told me about him getting angry with her and hitting her, but when I told her she needed to break up with him Elaine said she tried but couldn’t do it. The boy always tells her he’s sorry and he says that if they break up he’ll kill himself because he can’t live without her. Elaine feels bad for him and always thinks things will get better.”

Roberta went on to say that Elaine has now stopped telling her about her boyfriend’s anger. “She probably knows I’ll tell her to stop going out with him,” Roberta said. “But I don’t know how I can help her at this point. I hate to think of her being abused and manipulated by her boyfriend.”

What both Elaine and Roberta are experiencing is not unusual. Dating abuse can include shoving and hitting, but can also take the form of yelling, name-calling, manipulation, and possessiveness. Often a date who is abusive can make the other person feel guilty if they try to break up with them.

When parents, like Roberta, try to intervene, they often are shut out as the teen begins to be more secretive about what’s really going on in the relationship. The reason for this, as Roberta discovered, is that the teen doesn’t want to be told they should break off the relationship. Furthermore, adolescents in an abusive relationship are embarrassed or ashamed about the abuse they’re experiencing — or they are convinced it is their fault they are being abused.

However, dating abuse has a negative and often long-lasting effect on individuals. Teenagers who are abused are more likely to do poorly in school. They may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like drug and alcohol use. Not infrequently, abused teens carry the patterns of violence into future relationships. Research indicates that abused teens are three times more likely than their non-abused peers to experience violence during college.

But what can parents do?

Prevention is always the best goal. You can promote healthy relationships while your child is growing up prior to adolescence. Prevention can start with you treating your child in a manner that promotes self-respect and self-esteem. Make sure your child grows up believing that no one has a right to hit or control her.

Throughout your child’s life, but especially during the adolescent years, listen to your child. Pay attention to what goes on in peer relationships and help her learn to be assertive and learn to avoid abusive relationships.

If you suspect your adolescent is in an abusive or violent relationship, let your child know you are there to help, not to judge. You can be helpful if you focus on your child and her feelings rather than on the person she is dating. Tell her you care about her and want to help, but don’t rush in to tell her what she should do. By quickly advising her to break up with an abuser places her in a conflict that may be difficult for her to resolve. She will feel torn between what you want her to do and what her abuser wants her to do.

Finally, be supportive of your teen’s decisions. However, if she chooses to continue to date an abuser, she may need to talk to someone who is more objective, such as a mental health professional.