What you Must Know About Teens Who Decide to Run Away from Home

It can be a terrifying thought as a parent to know that your teen may run away from home. We will explore here the various dangers that runaway teens usually face, the reasons they decide to run away and some patterns associated with teens who have run away.

Threats to Runaway Teens

Teens who leave their homes out of rebellion, vowing never to return represent a case of at risk youth.  Once out of home they are in desperate need of a place to stay and a way to fill their belly. These circumstances may put them into a lot of distressing situations.

Such youth put themselves at the major risk of sexual exploitation in exchange for a roof over their head, medicine or food. Selling themselves for sexual reasons is sometimes the only choice for them as they are in an age bracket when they cannot rely on a lot of practical skills for earning a livelihood. Not surprisingly, a high proportion of runaway girls are at a greater risk of getting into unwanted pregnancies with as many as 20 percent of such girls reported to have become pregnant due to the lack of availability of birth control measures and exposing themselves to hazardous circumstances.

Also, teens who run away are faced with a more severe level of threats in the shape of overdependence on drugs and alcohol. They may find themselves peddling drugs to sustain themselves. Research reveals that the level of dependence on drugs and alcohol seen in such youth predicts a greater likelihood of addiction.

Moreover, research also highlights the prevalence of a higher number of mental illnesses in these teens that may worsen into suicidal tendencies. After all, the act of running away from home is linked to conduct disorder, anxiety, depression and dysthymia or may reveal itself in such mental and physical manifestations.

What Causes the Act of Running Away?

Teens run away for two major reasons: to find safety from a threat felt by them or the avoidance of unbearable scenarios, and to fulfill the desire without hindrance to be in a newly found relation with someone or some substance. Feeling hurt, in the absence of any familial support, they may decide to run away in the spur of the moment.

Avoidance of Unbearable Scenarios

  • Mistreatment: One of the oft-cited reasons for running away is the need for escape from mistreatment at home or from family disputes. Faced with verbal and physical aggression, they resort to finding the easy way out that impels them to run away.

Malicious practices such as the use of addictive substances and sexual misconduct within homes are the worst case scenarios that affect the mental health and the safety of all the family members.  We must remember that teens do not really feel that running away from home is ever a favorable option for them. However, the situation at home makes it necessary for them to do so. They are in search of safety and sanity: the only way to get out of it for them is to be away from home.

  • Dismissive Attitude: Parents who are highly critical of their teens’ choices can create an environment where the teens feel neglected, abandoned and disapproved of. Extremely negative attitude towards their sexuality, the fact that they contracted an STD or that they have exhibited poor academic performance can trigger feelings of inadequacy in teens. Made to feel this way, they may set out in pursuit of greener pastures where they are appreciated and valued.

Teenagers who decide to take the plunge and run away may also take along a sibling or siblings mostly when there is a perceived threat to their life or the life of their sibling/s. Teenagers who are used to taking care of their siblings are prone to resort to a runaway situation even after having done an analysis of the consequences of running away. This is because they feel the need to take care of themselves or the ones they look after in a non-threatening environment.

  • Evasion of Consequences: Rather than face the repercussions, teenagers, pressed under the guilt of wrong acts done by them, reach the conclusion that running away is a better choice than to stay and reveal to their parents, who they feel would not understand. Take, for instance, teens who are taking drugs or alcohol behind their parents’ back. Out of fear of being exposed to the parents or to the law, they may feel it is better to continue with their actions or search for help outside of their home. Involvement with drugs and teen drinking can augment the negative results on a person’s mental well-being, leading to boosted levels of anxiety, increased occurrence of anger, worsened ADHD, and bipolar disorder, in turn, generating delusions and worry about exaggerated correctional measures against their actions. Moreover, suspicion for the “criminal justice” system and its penalizing nature has impacted teens to keep up with finding respite in illegal substances.


  • Reliance on Other Kinship Structures: Teens who are victims of abuse at home or who feel a sense of neglect from their family may seek out bonds and connections with outsiders. Feeling threatened, they may move to a friend’s place to feel safe or emotionally supported.

Teenagers are also seen taking accommodation with people who are not part of their immediate family when in a stressful or threatened state that they would rather not reveal to their parents from fear of their reaction. Take, for example, a victim of sexual abuse, terrified of the possible backlash from their parents, might feel comfortable disclosing their predicament to a near and dear friend rather than a parent. A friend is likely a better person to confide in and seek support in, given that their parents may act violently in response to the news or be very disapproving, in the instances when they take to the authorities to report the assault or get an abortion. Since the backing or assistance needed at times like these would most likely be absent from the parents, the teen may turn to people they know outside of the family. However, other people they would come in contact with in such a situation like the law enforcement officers or the doctors providing abortion could not be depended on for emotional care and fulfillment.

  • Membership in Gangs: Teens who join gangs might come to associate dearly with the gang members and may start considering them their family because of the closeness they feel with them in their act of complicity. The bonds between members in gangs are strengthened because they are expected to care for each other and unite against the lawmakers. As a result, teenagers who are new members may decide to live together with the gang, not their family, in order to seek companionship and assistance. It makes it even more attractive to belong to a gang due to the diversity of the membership: people from different generations and genders who impart wisdom and lend support in defined roles strengthen the feelings of being part of a family.

  • Addiction: Dependence on addictive substances in teens leads them to rely on them as a support system, providing them with feelings of comfort and personal healing. If family members, law enforcers or rehabilitation services try and come in between the teens’ dependence on drugs and alcohol, their reaction would most likely be quite aggressive. This might, then, provoke them to escape the circumstances that try and bind their freedom. They might do so also because they feel they are in a better position to take charge of their recovery from the dependence on these substances.

Author Bio:

Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.