Teens On The Run – How To Spot Runaway Risks and How To Prevent Them

Every year, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away, according to the National Runaway Safeline. There is a multitude of reasons why youth run away, whether they feel unsafe in their home, are in a constant battle with their family, feel shunned due to their sexual orientation, are experiencing mental health issues, or have a history of truancy or residential instability. 


5 Indicators Your Child Could Run Away


Parents know that as their children grow older, they will attempt to assert their independence, but some may struggle with finding that freedom more than others. Their child could act out in extreme ways, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, committing crimes, skipping school, and running away from home. 


A decision to run away can be triggered by several factors, so parents need to pay close attention to changes in their child’s behavior and be on the lookout for some key indicators that their child is thinking about running away:


  • Threatening or talking about running away
  • Changes in their usual mood or behavior (withdrawing from family and friends, becoming extremely irritable, or engaging in self-harm) 
  • Increase in rule-breaking or reckless behavior (coming home late or not at all, drug abuse, truancy, stealing)
  • Developing new relationships outside their typical network, including high-risk peer groups and gangs, that cause them to act out
  • Saving their money for no apparent reason or keeping their belongings packed away


Prevention Begins With The Family


Most children run away due to problems with their families. The child may leave home because of a heated argument or abuse, they did something they’re ashamed of and are afraid to tell their parents, or maybe they don’t want to adhere to their parents’ rules anymore. However, there are also other, more emotional reasons, that cause a child to run away, such as feeling neglected because of a newborn sibling, death in the family, or a family financial crisis. 


Children who are thinking about running away may also not have adequate problem-solving skills or the right adults in their life to help them work through the issue. The child may feel that running away is the only choice to get away from or solve their problem. Whatever the problem may be, it’s important for parents to make sure their child knows there are other ways to deal with their problems besides running away. 


“Families who fear that their teen has run away, or is planning to run away, should reach out for help,” stresses Youth Crisis Center’ mental health counselor Lonnie Erskine. “If you fear your child is thinking of running away, reach out to them and talk to them. Give your child comfort, time to be angry, allow them their space to find some quiet time, listen to music so they can center themselves. Remember communication is the first key, followed by compassion and love.”


YCC Family Link Program 

The Youth Crisis Center was founded in 1974 as Florida’s first run-away program and has grown to be one of the largest and best-known providers of services for youth and families. Nationally recognized as setting a standard in youth services, YCC has been ranked as one of the top five programs in the United States by the Youth Policy Institute in Washington DC. Throughout the past 45 years, YCC has helped thousands of youth and their families overcome adversity and build stronger relationships. 


One program, in particular, YCC’s Family Link, provides professional and compassionate short-term, outpatient counseling services to families with children ages 6-17 who are experiencing concerns that could disrupt the health and stability of the family, leading the child to run away. 


“Providing intervention and prevention are the keys to success for families and youth in the community,” explains Erskine. “I have had the opportunity to help youth in our community that has run away, or thought of running away, face their fear of anger, depression, and anxiety of school, and become better equipped with coping skills and strategies to face issues head-on.” 


To learn more about Family Link services, click here or call (904) 725-6662. All Family Link counseling sessions are confidential.



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