Runaway Teens

Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare—you go to check on your child in the middle of the night, and she’s not there. Your heart starts pounding and you fly into panic mode, calling her friends, your relatives, and the police.

Whether or not your child has run away or threatened to do so—or you fear that she might—it’s vital that you read this article. James Lehman has worked with runaway teens for many years, and in this new EP series he explains why kids run away, ways you can stop them, and how to handle their behavior when they come home.

“Kids who threaten to run away are using it for power.”

Any child can run away at any time if the circumstances are right. Believe me, if they’re under enough stress, any kid can justify running away.

Don’t forget, running away is like any action. In order to do it you need three things: the ability, the willingness and the opportunity. And let’s face it, kids have the opportunity and ability to run every day—so all it really takes is the willingness to do it. That willingness can develop for a variety of reasons. It could be a stressful situation your child is under, a fear of getting consequences for something they did, a form of power struggle, not wanting to go to school, or a substance abuse problem.

Another factor is that kids often idealize running away and develop a romanticized view of life on the streets. In reality, it’s awful: you’re cold, you’re hungry and it’s dangerous, but adolescents often see it as an adventure or the key to freedom, where “No one is going to tell me what to do.”

Why Kids Run Away
Many kids run away because of drug and alcohol abuse. When teens and pre-teens get involved in substance abuse, they may leave home to hide it so their parents don’t find out. These kids are often using a lot more than their parents know; they want to use more freely and openly, so they run away.

In addition to fear or anger, feelings of failure can also cause kids to leave home. Some children run away because it’s easier to live on their own than to live in a critical home. I remember being 15 years old and living in a hallway in the Bronx in winter. I didn’t miss home at all because I felt like such a failure there. Sadly, kids with behavior management problems or learning disabilities often get tired of the feeling that they just can’t get it right; it’s easier for them to run than to fix the problem. Often, they don’t know that what they’re facing can be dealt with using other strategies.

Related: Learn how to teach problem solving skills to your teen.

In my opinion, the main reason why kids run away is because they don’t have good problem-solving skills. Running away is an “either/or” kind of solution; it’s a product of black-and-white thinking. Kids run away because they don’t want to face something, and that includes emotions they don’t want to deal with. The adolescent who runs away has run out of problem-solving skills. And leaving home—along with everything that is overwhelming them—seems to solve their immediate problems.

Episodic vs. Chronic Running Away
I think it’s very important to distinguish between kids who run away episodically, and those who are chronic runners. The reasons behind the actions are quite different, and it’s crucial to know what they are.

  • Episodic Running Away: When your child runs away after something has happened, it can be viewed as episodic running away. It’s not a consistent pattern, and your child is not using it as a problem-solving strategy all the time. It’s also not something they use to gain power. Rather, they might be trying to avoid some consequence, humiliation or embarrassment. I’ve known kids to leave home because they were caught cheating in school or because they became pregnant and were afraid of their parents’ disapproval.
  • Chronic Running Away: Kids who consistently use running away to gain power in the family have a chronic problem. Realize that chronic running away is just another form of power struggle, manipulation, or acting out; it’s just very high risk acting out. They may threaten their parents by saying, “If you make me do that, I’ll run away.” They know parents worry; for many, it’s one of their greatest fears. Some parents may engage in bargaining and over-negotiating with their kids over this when they shouldn’t because they’re afraid. But you need to understand that kids who threaten to run away are using it for power. This not only gives them power over themselves, but power over their parents and their families as well. When a parent gives in to this threat, their child starts using it to train them. For example, a parent in this situation will learn to stop sending their child to their room if he or she threatens to run away each time it happens. I want to be clear here: kids who chronically threaten to run away are not running away to solve one problem. They’re running away because that is their main problem-solving skill. They’re trying to avoid any type of accountability.

Are there Warning Signs?
Unfortunately, there are no real hard-and-fast signs that indicate your child is about to run away. Certainly, you can look for secretive behavior, the hoarding of money, and things of value disappearing around the house. If you ever notice this happening, don’t turn a blind eye: trust your gut. You probably already know that something is up, whether it’s substance abuse or your child’s desire to leave home.

A Step-by-Step Way to Teach Your Kids that Running Away Won’t Solve Their Problems

  1. Teach Problem-Solving Skills
    The most important thing you can do is teach your children problem solving skills. Ask them, “What can you do differently about this problem? What are some ways we can deal with this problem?” Always approach something as a problem that needs to be solved, and reward your child when they are able to do it successfully. Be sure to say things like, “I liked the way you solved that problem, Josh. The teacher was upset, but you went up and apologized. That took guts. And now she has a better opinion of you. I’m really proud of you.” As much as possible, praise your child when he does something positive.
  2. Create an Atmosphere of Acceptance
    Unconditional love is an idea that is used a lot in parenting, but different people mean different things by it. Some people say “unconditional love” but what they mean is “co-dependency.” When I say unconditional love, I mean “I can’t love you any less if you do poorly and I won’t love you love anymore if you do well. If you get an A I won’t love you any more. If you get a D I won’t love you any less. I love you.” I think it’s important for parents to have that kind of atmosphere in their house and to reinforce it with their kids. It’s also good for parents to say, “It’s okay to make mistakes around here.” Make it clear to your child that “the way we handle mistakes in our home is by facing up to them and dealing with them.”
  3. Check in with Your Child
    All parents should have a system where they check in with their kids frequently. Just stop and ask, “How’s it going? Anything you want help with?” You can say this two or three times in one day; go by their room and knock on the door. That way you’re constantly giving your child hypodermic interest and affection. You’re saying, “I’m interested in you, I care.” This is a skill that parents can build; it doesn’t always come naturally. I understand that parents who have worked all day come home and they’re tired. My wife and I were both social workers and when we came home, the last thing we wanted to do was talk some more. But we trained ourselves to do that so our son would know we were interested and that we cared. You never lose when you show that to a child.
  4. Talk to Your Child if You Think He’s at Risk of Running
    If you think your child is at risk of running away or you know that his friends have done so, you want to sit down and talk with him. Always temper your comments about other kids’ behavior by what your child might be thinking. They hear you when you say, “Oh, that little hoodlum, if my kid ran away, he’d never come home.” As a parent, you need to be careful about who’s listening. What you really want to say to your child is, “If you screw up and run away, don’t hesitate to come back and we’ll talk about it.” And if your child says, “Talk about what?” I would say, “Talk about how to solve the problem differently.”
  5. Responding to Threats
    When your child threatens to run away, I think you should respond by saying, “Running away is not going to solve your problems. You’re going to have to take responsibility for this. And by the way, if you do run away, you’re still going to have to face this problem when you come home.” And then tell them what will solve their problems: “These are the family rules and learning to deal with the family rules is going to solve your problems. Not running away from them.”

    I think you can give warnings, as well. You might say, “Listen, if you run away, I can’t stop you, but it’s dangerous out there. I won’t be able to protect you. So not only will you not solve your problems, you’ll also be putting yourself at risk. Bad things happen to kids and that’s the risk you’re taking. I don’t think it’s worth it, Jenna.” As I mentioned before, you can also try to get them to take a time-out by saying, “Why don’t you just calm down for five minutes and then let’s talk about it.”

    Many families I’ve worked with wound up dealing with constant threats by saying, “Look, if you run, you run. But these are still our family rules.” At some point, they stopped giving in because they realized it wasn’t effective or healthy for their families or their child.

Related: Give your teen consequences that really work.

“I’m Outta Here!” When Your Child is about to Leave:

3 Things Parents Can Do in the Moment

Many kids leave home in the heat of an argument with their parents or after some major event. This action is probably not spontaneous—your child might have been considering how they will run away for quite some time. If you sense your child is about to leave, here are a few things you can do or say to stop them:

  • Try to Get Them to Calm Down
    Try to get your child to calm down for five minutes. You can say, “Why don’t you sit right here in the living room and take a timeout. I’ll be back in five minutes.” I wouldn’t tell your child to go to his room; have him stay right there in the living room or kitchen. It’s not a good idea to send him to his bedroom. This is because if he goes there and gets the impulse, he’s going to climb out the window.
  • Ask “What’s Going on?” Not “How are You Feeling?”
    When you talk to your child, don’t ask him how he’s feeling; ask him what’s going on. All kids want to argue about how they’re feeling—or they want to deny that they’re feeling anything at all. Often parents get stuck there. So instead of, “Why are you so upset?” try asking, “What’s going on? What did you see that made you want to leave?”
  • Use Persuasive Language
    A really good question to ask your child is, “So what’s so bad about this that you can’t handle it?” After he or she tells you, you can say, “You’ve handled stuff like this before. Kids your age deal with this all the time and I know you can do it. So you screwed up, it’s not the end of the world. Face what you’ve got to face and then let’s get on with life.” That kind of reasoning is called “persuasive talking.” As a parent, you’re not giving in, but you’re trying to persuade your child that they’re okay. I used this approach successfully in my practice with kids all the time; I found that many teens yield to that type of persuasion.

Remember, kids run away from problems they can’t handle. It’s in our culture. Adolescents often see running away as a way to achieve a sense of power and independence. They don’t understand that it’s false power and independence, however, because they can’t take care of themselves in a legitimate way on the streets. Still, those feelings can be very ingrained for some kids. Personally, I think the most important thing for a child to learn is how to solve his problems differently. Your child is going to have to face whatever he’s avoiding eventually, and it’s of the utmost importance that he understands that critical life lesson: “Eventually, you’re going to have to face this.”

When your child is out on the streets, you feel powerless, afraid and isolated. And if they decide to come home, your joy can quickly turn to dread as you see them fall into the old patterns of behavior that caused them to run in the first place.  Look for Part II of “Running Away” in Empowering Parents the week of October 12th. James will tell you more about what you can do when your under-age child runs away, and how to handle their behavior and give them consequences— when they come home.

READER’S COMMENTS

Comment By : Runaway young teen

Comment By : Ellen

Comment By : Liz

Comment By : Vanda Garcez

Comment By : Helpless

* Dear Helpless: These are really difficult situations when you have an older child, such as your 19 year old son, who is simply not willing to follow any house rules. It also sounds like he uses what James calls, ‘Anger with an Angle’ to get what he wants from you. For example, you say that if you don’t buy him a car for his birthday, he will get mad at you. When kids use ‘Anger with an Angle’, James say they are doing it to train others to avoid making them angry ‘or else’, using anger to have power over others or using anger as an excuse for being aggressive, destructive or abusive. When you use the Total Transformation Program to recognize the techniques your child is using to get their way, it will help you to learn more effective ways to deal with this behavior. It’s also helpful to know that although it’s directed toward you, your kids techniques are not about you, but about getting power over the situation. James Lehman wrote a couple of other articles you might enjoy: Anger as a Weapon: When Your Child “Points the Gun” at You. The other article you might find helpful talks about setting up house rules with older kids: Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? Remember, you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line for help in using the program techniques to manage your child’s behaviors. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Vanda Garcez: I’m so glad to hear your daughter is doing better and that you have the support of your church group to lean on. It is true there can be limits on services from social workers. However, even though those services have ended, I would not hesitate to call the police and report it if she runs away again. James Lehman says it’s important to have a record that your child is not under your supervision. You’ll learn more about that in Part II of his article. Having this documented may be a needed step in qualifying for more services. You might keep the social service agency informed of any risky behavior, such as running away. There is an article by James Lehman that may help address some of her behaviors that you describe as ‘rebellious’. This article will give you tips on teaching her how to problem solve and manage her emotions. As James says, “Good behavior is a skill that has to be learned.” He says, “A key element in helping children change their behavior is for parents to learn techniques where they help their child identify the problem they’re facing.” The article is entitled: Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior Thank you for your question. I wish you luck.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : momof1

* Dear Liz: What James Lehman teaches is that we are each personally responsible for our own choices and behaviors. That’s what he means when he talks about “Creating a Culture of Accountability” in your home. Kids don’t get to use the excuse that their teacher doesn’t like them so they do poorly in class, or my friend forgot to give me a ride home so I didn’t make it by curfew. Your daughter is responsible for saying “No” when someone invites her to break house rules or ignore your family’s standards. It’s important to give our kids this message so that they don’t feel like they can claim to be the victim to someone else’s influence. As James writes, if you think you’re the victim, then you feel you’re not responsible for the results of your actions. In fact, he wrote a really good article on this topic that you might enjoy: “I’m a Victim, So the Rules Don’t Apply to Me!” How to Stop “Victim Thinking” in Kids Thanks for your question. Remember, you can call the trained specialists on the Support Line and discuss what you’re working on and receive program ideas to help. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : Elisabeth, EP Editor

Comment By : James

* Dear James: Many parents get into a power struggles with their kids around doing household chores. It is a common source of tension. It is also a reasonable expectation that everyone contribute to maintaining the household they live in. Here’s a great article from James Lehman, entitled, I’ll Do It Later!” 6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now. It’s a really tense situation where a relative has taken in your children and you do not approve of this. It never hurts to let your girls know that you love them and want them to be home with you. Of course, you will still have expectations of them to contribute around the house and you should let them know that too. As far as any legal recourse to have your children returned home, you will need to contact an attorney in your state to find out what your options are. Here’s hoping that all family members can work this out and support each other in raising your girls.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : mom of 5

* Dear Mom of 5: Part of the work of an adolescent is coming to an understanding of who they are as unique individuals. During this process it’s not uncommon for teens to question their parent’s values and to look toward other role models or peers. I agree with what you said to your niece, that we can sometimes think that other families would be wonderful to live with, but that all families have house rules and difficult times. And it’s good that you told her she cannot just move out. I’m sure you have, but it’s also important to say that, “You are a member of our family and you are welcome to have friendships outside the home, but you must live here with us.” It makes sense that your niece would be attracted to someone who also lost her parent as a young child. If this is a good person, it may be a really nice friendship for her to enjoy during this time. You may feel that she could also benefit from attending a group for grieving kids. Try calling the United Way at “211” to find this type of group in your area. As her parent, you are her most influential role model, even though at times it feels as if she’s rejecting everything you stand for. This is a normal phase and part of the work teens go through on the way to understanding their own identity. During this sorting out process of values and ideas, she will reexamine what you have taught her. As she goes through this developmental process, becoming a unique individual as a young adult, she will blend your values and ideas with her own. Understanding this will help you make some compromises with her and help accept that some of her choices may not be the same as your own. This does not mean that you change your house rules, but instead, understand that she may not see things the same way as you. It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job with her. Keep in touch with us and let us know how it’s going. Remember, you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line to discuss what program techniques to apply when working with your niece.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : abandoned mom

* Dear abandoned mom, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having difficulty with your daughter. Do your best to focus on the pieces in this situation that you have the most control over, one of which is your interactions with your younger daughter. Let her know that you are available to support her. Extend that welcome mat and model the behavior that you would like to see from your daughter. It sounds like she is struggling with figuring out what is best for her and what she wants and you can’t make that any easier for her. It can be frustrating to stand back and watch your daughter struggle with ‘unknowns’ but do your best not to take it personally. Remain present and check in with her without pressing for answers too hard which may strain the relationship further. During this time make sure to take care of yourself and to have people that you trust that you can reach out to. I wish you well.

Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : Lyneve

* Dear ‘’Lyneve’: We are sorry to hear about the death of your son’s father. People handle grief differently. Sometimes the loss of a parent is processed, if you will, throughout different stages all throughout your life. At the moment, your son may not want to talk to you about his loss. As long as he is taking care of himself—food, sleep, exercise, etc., and not isolating himself, there probably is no reason to worry because he is not discussing his feelings with you. As far as running away, you have stated that you feel it’s due to your relationship with him and how you handle correcting him. It’s really good that you recognize this because then you are able to make changes. You’re right in that getting easily irritated and screaming a lot is not effective parenting. James Lehman talks about the ‘Screamer’ in Lesson 2 of the Total Transformation program. He points out that kids view a screaming parent as a parent not able to control their emotions. They need us to be in emotional control. Kids are not emotionally capable of taking care of their parent’s emotional states so it can be frightening to them when a parent is out of control. What might be helpful for you is to look at is the article James Lehman wrote about staying out of power struggles with your kids. Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children Declaring Victory is Easier than You Think Because your son continues to run away, please consider working with a family therapist. Family therapy is better than individual therapy for the kids because kids have a hard time presenting to a therapist what’s really happening at home—that’s one reason to choose family therapy. Another reason is a family therapist, working with the whole family, will be able to help everyone see the patterns of interaction that need to be improved. We appreciate your question and remind you that if you are a Total Transformation customer, you can call the Support Line for assistance and support in using the program techniques.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : CONCERNED AUNT

Comment By : Sissi

* Dear Sissi: Kids sometimes do take off to try to threaten you into changing your house rules. If you have reasonable house rules for an almost 17 year old, don’t change your rules because your son is acting out. At the same time, be willing to allow him more and more freedom as he demonstrates the ability to make responsible behavior choices with those new freedoms. And don’t blame your family for his choice. Instead, hold him personably accountable for his actions. This is very important. Let him know that you want him to return home and he is expected to follow your house rules. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : kaz

* Dear ‘kaz’: We’re sorry to hear that you’re going through this difficult time. Since you are concerned about the underage drinking where your daughter is staying, call your state’s child protective services to report your belief that the environment is not a safe place for her. You could also ask child protective services if you’re eligible to use their ‘reunification services’ to assist you in bringing your daughter back home. We hope this starts the ball rolling for you and that you will soon see some positive changes in your relationship with your daughter.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Comment By : aricab

Comment By : Donovan Hemingway

Comment By : ?

Comment By : Trying to keep him happy

Comment By : B.L.

* To B.L.: It sounds like it’s been very difficult for you and dad to deal with your step-daughter’s running away. I can imagine it takes a great deal of energy to monitor her and prevent her from running again. A unique advantage you do have in this case is that you know where she’s going to go. Still, her behavior is very risky. Whether or not you give in and let her live with the other relatives is a personal decision for you and dad to make. It might be helpful for you to contact the National Runaway Switchboard to discuss your situation further. They provide assistance in various types of runaway situations. It certainly couldn’t hurt to contact their free, 24/7 hotline to see how they can help. You can reach them at 1-800-786-2929. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : frustrated father

Comment By : heartbrokenmom

* To ‘heartbrokenmom’: We commend you for filing runaway charges on your son when he takes off. You can’t make him come home, but the police certainly can. It can take courage to call the police on your own child—good for you! Give yourself a pat on the back and keep it up. They may only continue to have you come and get him but at least he will see that you are consistent. Since your son is possibly using drugs as well, it might be best for you to seek some supports in your area to help you and your family. Drug use can get in the way of any effective moves you make as a mother and can certainly be related to running away in many cases. We suggest contacting the Boystown National Hotline where you can speak with a specially trained counselor who works with families like yours every day. The counselor can make recommendations for you and help you find support near your hometown. They are available 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : debbie

* Hi Debbie: It sounds like you are looking for a solution to your niece’s behavior. We definitely encourage you to get support if you feel that you need it, whether it includes a short-term program like the one you describe or outpatient counseling or therapy. One thing to keep in mind is that she might also need you to make some changes at home to help her change her behavior. James Lehman says, “You have to parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had.” It sounds like your parenting strategies work very well for your own daughter but your niece needs something different. James Lehman felt that parent training, such as that offered by the Total Transformation program, is the solution to acting out behavior. He also felt that children act out because they don’t know how to solve problems effectively. It will be important for you to work with your niece to help her develop better problem solving skills. So no, you are not wrong to think about sending her away. That might only be part of the solution, though. Here is an article for more information on sending children away: Teenage Boot Camps, Wilderness Programs and Military Schools: Are They Effective? We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : steppingstones

Comment By : Kimber38

* To Kimber38: It sounds like you are in a very difficult situation with your son right now. I hear how concerned you are for his safety outside of your home, and his ability to care for himself. It is unclear from your comment whether you are your son’s legal guardian due to his developmental delays. If this is the case, we recommend contacting your local law enforcement agency to see what sort of support they might be able to offer you with your son. In the meantime, it will be helpful to focus on what you can do to take care of yourself during this time. For example, if you are feeling angry, disappointed or saddened by the events taking place with your son, come up with something you can do to handle these feelings, and get the support you need. We know this is easier said than done, and we wish you the best as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : desperatemother

* To ‘desperatemother’: It sounds like you are experiencing a difficult situation with your daughter, with her running away and being with an older boyfriend who is a negative influence on her. In your circumstances, it is helpful to focus on what you can control. Unfortunately, you cannot control your daughter’s behavior, or what she thinks. You can, however, control your own actions. We recommend continuing to call the police if she is running away; even if it appears that nothing is happening, you are still creating a paper trail which could be helpful in getting additional resources to help you with your daughter. We also advise having a problem solving conversation with your daughter when she is home about what she can do differently instead of running away. A helpful resource for you may be the Runaway Switchboard. This service provides information, referrals and intervention services to both you and your daughter to keep her safe. You can reach them by calling 1-800-786-2929 or by visiting National Runaway Switchboard. We know this isn’t easy, and we wish you the best as you work through this with your daughter.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Dawsonna

Comment By : WorriedMommy

* To ‘WorriedMommy’: It can certainly be scary when young kids take off in the heat of a conflict. Talk to your son about his reason for leaving the house. Ask him a “what” question to figure out what problem he was trying to solve by doing this, such as, “What were you thinking when you took off outside?” or “What was going on for you when you left the house last night?” Let him know that running off is not going to solve his problems. You should also reiterate that it’s not okay for him to go outside at night by himself—the rule is that he needs to stay in unless an adult is with him. Talk about what he can do differently next time this problem comes up for him—coloring, writing, or listening to music might help for example. It will also be helpful to use consequences if your son does decide to leave the house at night again. An example of a consequence might be that he loses his video games the next day if he goes outside without permission. On a final note, we would never discourage you from getting local support. If you think it will be helpful for you to work with a counselor or therapist in your area then by all means, find someone to talk to. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : i know the truth

Comment By : leversole

* To ‘leversole’: You are in a difficult situation with your son. From your comment, it sounds like he is in trouble with school, the law, and at home. You are right-you cannot control his actions or behaviors such as running away, refusing to take medication or skipping school. It can be helpful to focus on what you can control-namely, yourself. You can control how you choose to hold him accountable for his actions, whether that is calling the school to tell them that he is refusing to go, letting the doctor know that he is refusing to take his medication, or contacting his probation officer about his behavior. We encourage you to continue using these outside authorities to help hold your son accountable for his actions. It can be overwhelming to look at possible outcomes 2 years from now when your son is 18, and unfortunately, no one can see into the future with any certainty. We advise looking at what you can do today-can you call the police if he is being unsafe or doing something illegal? Can you call the school to let them know that he is refusing to go to school? Can you do something to take care of yourself and your own well-being so that you are coming from a calm and centered place when dealing with your son? If you and your family are not currently working with anyone to get support in your local community, a good place to start is www.211.org. 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. I am including links to some articles I think you might find helpful: Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child’s Behavior Make You Crazy & Parenting ODD Children and Teens: How to Make Consequences Work. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this with your son; we know this isn’t easy.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Love is better than punishment

Comment By : Concerned

* To ‘Concerned’: Thank you for your comments. You raise some very good points and we think your concerns are valid. We do realize that there are situations in which children run away for self-preservation, that there are children who are in abusive situations and feel that their only option is to escape. We are very sorry to hear that you are one of those people who needed to leave home in order to feel safe. We are sensitive to this particular demographic, and yet this article is not intended to address these types of situations. As is the case with any written media, we do not know how people will use the information we publish, or whether they will take away the intended message. What we do know is that there is no excuse for abuse of any kind. Nobody deserves to be abused and we do not condone methods of discipline that are physical, punitive, or excessive. Our goal is to provide parents with responsible, sound professional parenting advice that gives them non-abusive methods of discipline. That is what it means to empower parents and that is our mission. We thank you for your comments and we hope your situation improves soon. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Sally

* Hi Sally. Thanks for taking the time to write to us—I’m really glad you reached out to ask for some help because this is a pretty tough situation. It’s so hard to be thousands of miles away from your daughter when she is hurting and even harder to feel like you have very few options to help her. We support your need to get some clear answers about what led up to your daughter’s decision to run away and re-evaluate her living arrangements. First, though, it’s going to be important to try to get in touch with your daughter and look into some options to ensure her safety while you get the information you need. I encourage you to call the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-786-2929. They provide 24/7 support to teens and to families of teens who have run away– they even have a program that can help runaway teens get home to their parents in some cases. When you call they can walk you through your options and help you decide your next step. We know this is hard and we wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Concerned parent

* To “concerned parent”: Thank you for taking the time to share your story and concerns. It seems like you have done a great job raising your daughter. It can be quite alarming when a previously well-behaved teen starts to pull away or make inappropriate choices. It’s really easy to start awfulizing and thinking about all of the other bad choices she could make. You may start to question your parenting or be afraid to hold her accountable because of how she might react. It’s easy to blame ourselves when our children make bad choices. In her article “Am I a Bad Parent?” How to Let Go of Parenting Guilt, Janet Lehman states parents will often take the blame for their child’s choices because it’s difficult for us to see our children struggle. We would encourage you to continue to hold her accountable for her choices and have expectations on her behavior. Avoid focusing too much on her boyfriend and his influence because she may use this as way to push your buttons and gain control in a situation. Instead you can send the message that you respect her choice to have a relationship with her boyfriend but she is still responsible for following house rules. James Lehman would suggest you set up a living agreement with your daughter, a contract of sorts that outlines what your rules and expectations for your daughter are and how you will hold her accountable for her choices. He outlines how to set up a living agreement in the article Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? I would also encourage you to check out the other two articles in the series Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I and Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II: In Response to Questions about Older Children Living at Home. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Angela

* To “Angela”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. Please accept our condolences on the loss of your mother. I can only begin to imagine how difficult this has been for you. It can be challenging when your child becomes an adult and starts making choices you don’t necessarily agree with. It’s also difficult to feel like you are torn between wanting to take care of your daughter and wanting to support your husband. We talk with a lot of parents on the parental support line that are in similar situations. As Debbie Pincus points out in her article Throwing It All Away: When Good Kids Make Bad Choices “one of the most painful and frustrating things for parents is watching their teens make bad choices and “throw it all away.” It can be easy to get caught up in the stress of the situation. Finding ways to deal with the stress and anxiety can go a long way towards helping you cope with the situation in a positive way. As Debbie outlines in her 2 part article on adult children living at home, taking care of yourself helps you be resilient, which, in turn, can give you the energy and strength to deal with trying situations. You may find these articles helpful as well: Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy & Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity. We wish you and your family the best as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Comment By : Fatmeh

Comment By : Torn

* To “Torn”: What a tough situation! I am sorry you are facing some many challenging behaviors with your daughter right now. It can be extremely upsetting when you have a child who takes off every weekend without permission. How worried you must be when this happens. We would encourage you to contact the National Runaway Switchboard to discuss possible plans of action should your daughter run away again. You can reach this valuable support by calling 1-800-786-2929. It may also be helpful for you to speak with someone about what is going on for you. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now and it can be exhausting to try to deal with everything on your own. Having someone to talk to often times can be a big help. The 211 National Helpline can put you into contact with local services and supports, such as counseling centers or support groups. You can reach the Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto 211.org. Something to keep in mind is, even if your daughter tries to blame you for the choices she is making, you are not the reason she is unhappy. She may not be happy with the rules and expectations or may believe she can’t abide by them. There are rules and expectations everywhere; they are a normal part of life. Regardless of what she may say, by having rules and expectations for behavior within your house, you are giving her the opportunity to develop the skills she will need to be a successful adult. I’m including links to a couple articles I think you may find helpful: Does Your Child Act Out to Manipulate You? How to Stop Falling for It, Throwing It All Away: When Good Kids Make Bad Choices & Kids and Excuses: Why Children Justify Their Behavior. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address these challenges. Keep in touch and take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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