Many children have fantasized about running away from home at one time or another. Whether the reasons had to do with feeling isolated or helpless, suffering from domestic violence or abuse, or just general rebellion, there probably aren’t many kids who haven’t at least entertained the idea at one time or another.
But how much in touch are young people and teenagers with the dangers of running away from home ? How much do they realize the dangers that they will face being out on their own with no resources, money, or help to be found?
This article is, of course, not meant to serve as a guide to help teenagers run away from home, but rather a survival guide, if someone were to decide to do this, and hopefully as a caution to parents and educators to heed the warning signs before it is too late and try to help young people understand that you cannot run away from your problems by running away.
THE SIGNS OF RUNAWAYS
Kids who run away from home seem to follow the following profile generally. And, though this is not meant to be a tried and true guide to a profile of a runaway, it is a good place to start in terms of predicting the likelihood that someone might tend to try this so that you can focus on this type of kid.
- Has few friends or connections at school or home in neighborhood; feels isolated.
- Is having trouble adjusting, or with grades, etc., at school.
- Is failing one or more subjects
- Has a drug or alcohol-related problem
- Is sexually promiscuous
- Is a bullied or abused child
- Not involved in school activities; disconnected from the world
While these characteristics are also signs of other issues involving kids that indicate other problems, they can also be a tell-tale sign that someone might be more likely to try to escape by running away from home . Of course, other issues involving parent/child disagreements, rules, chores, and other matters may also motivate some kids to run away. Still, these are likely in the minority involving those issues which drive kids to do it.
In addition, kids who run away from home on a whim because they are mad at strict parents are more likely to come back home after a short time as well, as opposed to those driven by a deeper purpose, like substance abuse, violence in the home, poverty, and other factors.
IDENTIFYING THE RUNAWAY
It is important to use these characteristic checklists and other resources to identify the potential runaway before carrying out their plan. The faster these kids can be talked to and rationalized, the easier it will be to talk them out of carrying out their plan.
Once you have identified the kids who might attempt to run away, here are some things you can do to deal with them in a manner that is likely to discourage them from following through with their plan.
Some of these are based upon Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy counseling model, while others apply common sense. Use what works in each situation.
- Ask them if they have thought about running away and if they say yes, ask them for reasons as to why they want to do this.
- Ask them what resources they have that they will use for survival. Ask them what “survival” means to them. Brainstorm who they will turn to once they are out in the elements and who to avoid.
- Ask them what their ultimate goal in the running away is. And what they are afraid of, what they are running away from. Often, they will start talking about some of the issues that disturb them the most and share what they are thinking with you.
- In talking to these kids, ask them how much money they have saved up for their excursion. Take out pen and paper and a calculator and go through the scenarios with them. The key is to get them to understand first-hand just how much money it will take for them to survive on their own, and this alone may make them realize that it is a foolish thing to do without the money and the resources to do it.
- Talk to them about the dangers involved in running away. This is important because it involves being practical with them and discussing realities about the types of things they will run into, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening. However, it must be done in such a way as to convince them that it is not just a parent, educator, or counselor giving them some speech about the dangers of the world, but quote real statistics and information that they can verify to build a convincing argument against running away.
- If all else fails, devise a guide for running away. Call it “How to Run Away from Home,” and include the points below and give it to them. Explain to them that if they are determined to do this, you need to give them this guide to ensure their survival.
DETERRENTS FROM RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME
If you believe your child or one you know is considering running away, here are some things you need to tell them that they would need to survive. (This is not meant to encourage them to run away but should serve as a warning about how dangerous it is for them to do so and how many resources they would need to survive.)
- Have at least $1000 saved up, which you can keep with you at all times, and a safe place to keep it because people will try to rob you constantly.
- Have a place to stay, such as a motel, cabin, or house which belongs to a friend or other trusted adult who doesn’t mind keeping you for a few weeks or months, or however long you wish to be a runaway.
- Carry some weapon with you at all times, which will serve as a deterrent (hopefully, they will never have to use it) to save you from criminals who are also “on the run” with you.
- Keep a list of contacts or a cell phone with police, emergency personnel, or other contacts who can come to your aid in an emergency. Remind them that Mom and Dad will not be there if they run away, so they will need to find other resources to depend upon in times of trouble.
- Remind them that, as a runaway, they will need to adopt the rule to “talk to no one” unless necessary because you do not know who to trust on the street. The streets are full of criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, and others who may try to lure you into their activities, and that they are to avoid these people at all costs.
- Finally, tell them that they should have life insurance before they leave because it is likely that they will not come back alive. This is especially true if they are running away in a big city area, such as New York or Chicago, for example, where thieves and violent criminals abound and that they should be on guard at all times.
Much of these statements are, indeed, a bit dramatic. But, for some kids, this is what they need to hear.
They need to know that once they are on the road and their own, they must have all of these survival things in place if they have any hope of surviving in the world alone.
Through brainstorming with them the many realities of this situation, you may talk some kids out of doing it.
RUNAWAYS DON’T ALWAYS LEAVE A SIGN
The reality, though, is that the kind of kids who run away from home do not often give such signs that they will do this until they have followed through with their plan. Unfortunately, this means you may never have the opportunity to go through these things with these kids who decide one day to do it.
That is why it is essential to talk to your kids all the time about the dangers of running away and that nothing is worth that risk. Be open in your communications with them and let them know you are there for them all of the time to minimize the chances of their wanting to run away.
Tell them that you will try to help them no matter the situation and that there are people there for them when things get too hard to handle alone.
Often, the kid feels out of control of their life, the loner, the rebel, or the friendless one who tries to carry out the plan of running away from home. By communicating with these kids early and often and giving them the help they need now, you can communicate the love and concern they are missing in their lives and avoid the greater tragedy of losing them to the world as a runaway, which inevitably causes more problems in the long run.