What to Do When Your Teen Threatens to Run Away

According to the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), between 1.6 and 2.8 million teens run away from home every year. Over the past ten years, NRS has been receiving more and more calls from runaway youths, with an increasing number living on the streets. In fact, the number of teens living on the streets has increased by 70 percent in the past 10 years.

No parent ever thinks their child will be a part of these statistics- but it does happen. Troubled teens run away every day, and teens are often smart enough to find the means and opportunity to make good on their threat to run away.

Luckily, all is not lost. As a parent, there are steps you can take to help your troubled teen make better choices for their life. First, you need to listen and watch for the warning signs that indicate they might run away, understand the reasoning behind and then show them a better way to handle their problems.

Listen and Watch for Warning Signs

Does your teen joke about running away or talk about it occasionally? Have they threatened to do it in the heat of an argument? Have they begun selling some of their belongings (or even some of yours) to raise money? Don’t brush it off. Don’t ignore. Chances are, they are seriously considering it.

Teens run away for a number of reasons. Data released from a youth study from the Administration for Children and Families “Youth at Risk of Homelessness,” identified some risk factors as:

  • Abuse- Sexual, physical, emotional or verbal abuse can play a role in a teen running away. Sometimes the teen runs away from the home to escape the abuse. Other times, they are pushed out by parents who cannot afford to care for them or provide them with the mental health help they need.
  • Foster Care- Youth who have been in the foster care system and have had two or more foster care placements are 86 percent more likely to run away and face homelessness.
  • Asserting Independence- Some teens run away as a way of asserting their independence and spreading their wings. They often have no idea of the reality waiting for them.
  • Non-Acceptance- According to the same NRS statistics, LGBTQ youth ran away more than heterosexual youth because they faced difficulties in their homes due to a lack of acceptance by their parents and family members.

How to Handle a Runaway Threat

If your teen threatens to run away, the first thing you need to do is remain calm. Then, attempt to calm down your daughter. Ask her to sit in the living room or kitchen with you for a moment and just cool down. Things may be heated, and she may be too upset to truly know what she wants right now.

Once she is calm, have a discussion with her about what the issue is and what other steps (besides running away) could be taken to solve the problem. If she feels like she needs to get away for a while, perhaps a therapeutic boarding school, like Greenbrier, would be a better option.

If the issue is acceptance, that falls on you. Being an accepting parent doesn’t mean you have to condone any wrongdoings. It doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs. It means you need to create an environment where your teen knows they can come to you and admit their mistakes, tell you the truth and know you won’t overreact. It means they can be who they are, and you will still love them.

If your daughter threatens to run away, don’t ever brush it aside or ignore the threat. It’s a sign that something is not right. As a parent, you need to listen and watch so you know when to get help for your troubled teen.