By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer
“I didn’t like it there [home] because it was so strict and [there were] so many rules, and I wanted to do what I wanted to do.”
-Abby Stoltz, 16-
| Sixteen-year-old Abby Stoltz is just one of the
almost half a million teens who run away from home each year.
“I didn’t like it there [home] because it was so strict
and [there were] so many rules, and I wanted to do what I
wanted to do,” Abby says.
From the age of 13, Abby’s parents repeatedly grounded her
for using drugs and staying out past her curfew.
“I felt like
I was so closed in that I didn’t
have any freedom at all,” she says.
The lines of communication between Abby and her parents broke
down, and the 16-year-old chose to run away.
“She [my mother] would try to talk to me; I wouldn’t
open up,” Abby says.
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, children cite
a feeling that their parents don’t love them or that their
parents are being too strict as the two most common reasons
why they run away. Experts caution that parents need to pay
close attention to their children’s behavior in order to pick
up any warning signs indicating their children may decide
to run away from home. If your child experiences a change
in friends, a drop in grades or he or she threatens to run
away, experts urge you to open up a line of communication.
“The biggest thing is if you’re not able to talk to
your child, to get somebody who can talk to your child,”
says Brad Baker, a runaway investigator. “There’s church
groups, there’s school counselors and there’s educational
consultants. There’s plenty of people that you can get in
contact with to help you in your situation.”
After running away twice, each time for a week, Abby got
professional help and got clean. But what may have influenced
her to get the help she needed was her grandfather, who passed
“He told me to do better and that he knew that I had
it in me, and it hurt to hear that because he was gone. And
I never proved that to him that I had it in me, so that’s
what I’m going to do now, cause I know he’s up there watching
me,” she says.
Key to Runaway Prevention
By Kim Ogletree
CWK Network, Inc.
The U.S. Department of
Justice estimates that each year, as many as 450,700 missing
children are considered to be runaways. The National Runaway
Switchboard and the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children (NCMEC) cite these additional runaway statistics:
- One in seven children between the ages of 10 and 18 will
- Some will return within a few days; others remain on the
streets never to return.
- An estimated 1.3 million youth are on the streets each
- Assaults, illness or suicide will take the lives of 5,000
runaway youth each year.
- The median age for the cycle of running is 14 years old.
- Most runaway youths remain away from home between one
month and one year.
- Females tend to return home sooner than males.
Teens run away for a variety of reasons. According to Child
and Youth Health of South Australia (CYH), many teens leave
home impulsively after an argument with their caregiver. Often,
they don’t know how to express their feelings and believe
that running away will make their parents “come around.”
Others run away because they are afraid of punishment or they
think their home has too many rules and limits. And still
others flee because something seriously wrong is occurring
in their lives. Consider these additional, specific reasons
why a child might run away from home, cited by the Nemours
- Significant lack of family communication
- Feelings of not belonging or not being good enough
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Fighting or violence between parents
- Problems with parents or blended families (step-parents,
step or half-brothers and sisters)
- Problems with non-parental living situation (other relatives,
foster care or group home)
- Parental alcohol or drug use
- Kids’ alcohol or drug use
- Loss of a parent due to divorce or death
- Sexuality/teen pregnancy
- Parental financial difficulty – ongoing or unexpected
- Moving to a new area or school during adolescence
- Friend or peer influence
- Power of gangs
Before running away, your child’s behavior will often give
you clues to determine if he or she might consider leaving
home. The Covenant House Florida, an organization that helps
teens in crisis, cites the following warning signs of a troubled
teen on the verge of running away from home:
- Extreme mood changes or rebelliousness
- Very poor self-esteem
- Withdrawal from family and long-term friends and/or new
friends of whom parents don’t approve
- Drop in grades or frequently skipping school
- Remarkable change in appearance, such as major weight
loss or lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Isolation or depression
- Lying or stealing
- Beginning or increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Suicide threats
- Violent outbursts
- Gang tattoos or paraphernalia
- Possession of a weapon
What Parents Need to
In the event that your teen runs away from home, the CYH
suggests the following strategies for coping and locating
If you can’t find a reasonable explanation for your teen leaving
and you can’t assure yourself that he or she is safe, contact
your local police.
- Try to stay calm. Remember, most runaways return of their
- Find out what you can about your teen leaving. Was it
planned or impulsive? Did he or she go off with friends?
Did your teen leave a note? What did he or she take with
him or her?
- Work out whether you think your teen is likely to be safe.
Think about where he or she could run to and what you know
about why he or she left.
- Contact your teen’s friends or the friends’ parents. If
your teen is with friends, let the friends know that you
are worried and that you want to talk with your teen about
what is upsetting him or her. Don’t leave messages that
- Be prepared to make some changes. If no changes are made
to make the situation better, your teen will be likely to
run again. You may need a third person to “bridge”
any conversation in the beginning.
- The fact that you are looking for your teen is reassurance
that you care. It doesn’t mean that you have to give in
on everything but that you want to discuss ways to make
life better for you all.
- Have an open-door attitude to your teen’s return.
The North American Missing Children Association says that
developing a strong foundation of open communication with
your child is the key to preventing most runaway cases. Try
these tips to improve your relationship with your child:
- Pay attention. When your
child is talking with you, listen. Don’t just nod your head
while you’re watching television, reading the paper or using
your computer. Don’t just pretend to listen – kids know
- Give respect. Acknowledge
and support your child’s struggle to grow to maturity.
- Understand. Try to sympathize
with what your child is going through. Look at life – at
least occasionally – from his or her point of view. Remember
that when you were his or her age, your ideas seemed to
make sense to you.
- Don’t lecture. All children
hate to be lectured, especially teens. But all kids respond
to clear information and direction, most of all when they
know that the questions they ask will be answered.
- Don’t label. The throwing
around of useless labels will only confuse the real issues
that you wish to address.
- Discuss feelings. Talk about
what you, as a parent, feel and what you need. Allow your
child to talk about his or her feelings, too.
- Create responsibility. Give
your child choices, not orders. Help him or her to understand
the consequences of his or her actions.
- Give positive praise. Describe
your child’s positive and negative behavior and how it affects
others. Be specific, and give praise to reward good behavior.
Do this at least as often, if not more so, than you criticize
behavior that you don’t like.
- Stop hassling your child.
Asking your child too many questions often shuts off information.
Give him or her the opportunity to volunteer his or her
thoughts and feelings while you show a sincere interest,
- Don’t always give the answers.
You want your child to be able to find his or her own answers
or solutions to problems. You can help by not giving your
child the answers all of the time.
- Use Teamwork. Work together
with your child to evaluate the problems and find a mutually
- Provide support. You must
tell your child that you will always love him or her, no
Youth Health of South Australia
Children Organization, Inc.
Missing Children Association
for Missing Children, Inc.