Adolescence is probably the most extreme period in the life of an individual. Transiting from childhood to being an adult is full of rioting, searching for one’s identity and purpose, developing new models of behavior, psychologically separating from parents, and maturing. Many people tend to remember their teen years as the most saturated and meaningful—even though what teenagers usually do is hang out with friends and party. This age, however, is not as carefree and unclouded as it seems; teenagers, due to hormonal hurricanes and the psychological peculiarities of this age, often get themselves in trouble. Millions of parents around the world are worried that their children at this age will get in the wrong surrounding, start doing drugs, or drink alcohol; there is, at the same time, a problem that is no less dangerous: running away from home.
Although it might seem romantic—escaping home and wandering around the country or abroad, in search of one’s purpose or for whatever other reason—the reality is different. According to statistics, every year, up to 2.8 million teens who escape from home have to live on the streets. Among them, about 50% have been kicked out of their homes or shelters at least once, and they specified home conflicts being one of the main reasons of this; according to the reports of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about 20% of young people who have been thrown out of their homes or escaped faced physical and/or sexual abuse, or felt they were under the threat of abuse. Overall, more than 60% of runaway teenagers have depression, half of them have problems at school, and about 20% have developed substance addiction (National Safe Place). As it can be seen from the statistics, being a runaway is not about romantically searching for their place in the world, but rather suffering from injustice, poverty, violence, and depression.
Of course, there are cases when teens run away because of something bad at home (for example, a big fight with parents, or harsh restrictions, and so on). However, for a large percentage of runaways, the need to escape is innate, due to systematic misfortunes at home or school. In this regard, specialists distinguish between episodic running away and chronic running away. Episodic running away does not have a consistent pattern, and usually it not used to manipulate parents. More likely, episodic runaways occur in order to avoid punishment for misbehavior or misconduct, possible humiliation (for instance, from peers at school), or embarrassment. In the case of chronic running away, the situation is different; teenagers who regularly escape from home may be using this strategy to influence their parents, draw their attention if other means do not prove to be efficient, manipulate parents, or act out. One of the signs of such a pattern is when a teenager uses phrases such as: “If you make me do this/If you do not do that, I will run away.” They may threaten their parents by saying, “If you make me do that, I’ll run away,” knowing that running away is what many parents are afraid of. This is a bargaining strategy, and parents can engage in it without fully realizing they in fact cater to such behavioral patterns, not prevent them. Once a parent concedes to such blackmailing, a teenager may start using it more to always get what he or she wants; when such a relationship model substitutes direct and open communication between children and parents, it is not a healthy relationship anymore (Empowering Parents).
As for the reasons why teenagers choose to escape can be numerous. Among the most common ones are abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, and so on), substance addiction, and peer pressure. According to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, the most common reason for teenagers to run away from home is the lack of support and understanding coming from family members—and this is the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, there are numerous cases when teens have been molested, beaten, humiliated, threatened, and mistreated in their families; the fact that parents—probably the closest people to a teen—do this to him or her deeply undermines a young person’s ability to trust the world and his or her given society. Often being dependent on their parents in terms of finance or a place to live, they do not have an effective means of preventing or stopping harm from their parents; running away for such children seems to be the only valid option. Nearly the same is the situation for many teenagers at schools; feeling like a black sheep in class or being bullied, such teens tend to choose radical ways of problem solving. There were infamous cases when such teens committed mass shootings in the schools they studied at, but less psychologically traumatized children prefer to eliminate themselves from the stressful environment—through running away, usually. As for substance addiction, it commonly accompanies the aforementioned problems; a healthy teenager who has good relationships within and outside the family rarely feels the desire to try out drugs, for example; this may be done as an experiment or a part of teenage rioting behavior, but rarely turns into a consistent pattern typical for addicts. Nevertheless, teenagers who develop a substance addiction may run away from home in order to conceal this addiction from their parents, find money (often illegally) to buy more drugs or alcohol, or because they got into trouble connected to substances. Either way, parents need to look out for the signs of addiction a child may display in order to be able to notice the problem in time and try to solve it before it is too late.
Running away as a teen is a dangerous act. Teens who escape their homes often have to live in poverty, depression, and abuse; trying to solve problems (such as physical or emotional abuse, for example) at school or home, they run away hoping to get away from the source of distress; however, living on the streets means becoming less protected and more vulnerable, so the reason why teens escape does not vanish. Therefore, parents should be more attentive to their children, encourage direct communication, and watch out for signs of problems their child might be demonstrating in order to prevent the situation from becoming worse.
“Running Away.” National Safe Place. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2017.
“Why Do Kids Run Away.” Empowering Parents. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2017.
Fisher, Nathan. “Reasons Why Teenagers Run Away.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 May 2017.