Why Do Teens Run Away And How To Deal With It?

✔ Research-backed

Every now and then we hear shocking and alarming news regarding teenage running away from homes. So why do teens run away? During the growing age, your teen might get involved with drugs, smoking, criminal activity, premarital sex and they think of running away. There are lots of reasons for which your teen feels disturbed and enters into the state of a mental asylum. Did you notice any alarming signs in your teen that indicated that he might run away? Are you worried about your teen’s behavior? Is your teen acting irritable, arrogant and fussy? If you nodded yes, you need to go through the following post. In the article, we talk about a few of such reasons that impose a mental burden on your teens, and they run away from families!

In This Article

Why Do Teens Run Away?

Most teens run away because of drug and alcohol abuse. During their growing age, they often get involved in substance abuse and try to hide the issues from the parents. They feel that running away is the only solution not to face embarrassment. In addition to that, fear, failure or anger is another reason that makes teens run away from home. Some children find it difficult to adjust to their family members or critical home situations and think to escape out. (1) Some teens may run away to escape abuse in the home.

Episodic Vs. Chronic Teenage Runaway

Runaway behaviors in teens can be episodic or chronic

Image: Shutterstock

  • Episodic Running Away- When your child runs away for short episodes and returns after a small time interval the situation is referred as episodic running away. Your teen is not using their problem-solving strategy and faces difficulty in dealing with tough life events. Your teen tries to avoid some consequence, humiliation or embarrassment and is afraid of parents’ disapproval. In such circumstances, the only solution they can find is to flee way
  • Chronic Running Away- Teens who consistently fled away from the home want to gain superiority or attention of the family members. It is a chronic problem that makes them perform such action. These teens also threaten their family members by saying, “If you make me do that, I’ll run away.”

Signs To Indicate Your Teen Might Run Away

An abrupt change in your teen’s behavior may indicate their tendency to run away

Image: Shutterstock

Runaway teens belong to all backgrounds including urban and rural settings. It is important for the parents to recognize the warning signs that indicate that your teen might run away. If the warning signs get recognized in enough time, you may be able to prevent your teen from fleeing away.

Here are some of the behavioral changes that you should keep a note of:

  • You notice an abrupt change in your teen’s mood or behavior. They may look depressed, act irritable, anxious and isolate themself from their close family members and friends. Isolation can include excessive computer or phone use.
  • Your teen turns rebellious or reckless in their behavior and tries to break the house rules. Some of the rules he eventually starts to break are lying, stealing, drinking, smoking, fighting, using abusive words and coming home late more often.
  • Your teen threatens you more often to fulfill their demands or else they would run away.
  • Your teen spends an excess of their time in isolation and avoids all the basic responsibilities of life.
  • Your teen receives expensive gifts or money from outsiders, and you do not have the clue about those things. It may occur when they get involved in a drug racket or illegal smuggling business.
  • Your teen gets into a new relationship with an outsider and behaves a bit different. Some noticeable changes in their behavior include negative trends like frequent rebellion, argumentation, and dismissivenessiDisregarding or rejecting something or a person considering them unimportant .
  • Your teenage girl becomes sexually active and is at risk of becoming pregnant. During such a phase, she tries to ignore you and spend her time with her male friends. If she conceives during the period, she often thinks of running away.
  • Your teen faces problems in school like lack of concentration, skipping classes and remaining inattentive.
  • You may notice a few academic drawbacks in your teen’s performance like a sudden drop in grades, lack of interest in schoolwork or being suspended or facing an expulsion.
  • You notice some of the alarming signs of self-harming behavior such as using sharp objects to cut themselves or keeping a knife in their pocket.
  • Your teen begins to save money and keep their belongings in a bag or backpack.

According to the National Runaway Safeline, there has been a rise in youth who have opted to connect with the helpline over the last few years. The number of youth who have been asked to abandon homes and are homeless has increased to a large extent. Connections with youth in crisis have increased but at a relatively slower rate. Youth intending to run away, too, has seen a significant rise.

Types of youth connecting to NRS in 2017 (n=24,811)

Source: National Trends on Youth in Crisis in the United States; National Runaway Safeline [(types),(values)],[(Runaway),0.16],[(Youth asked to leave home),0.05],[(Homeless),0.09],[(Suspected Missing Reasons For Teens To Run Away
When your teen commits mistakes, their instinct may encourage them to flee

Image: Shutterstock

Problem with family

  • Most of the teens run away when they go through problems with their families.
  • Due to some terrible argument, they start disliking their family members and think to flee away.
  • Some even decide to leave the house without fighting with the parents. They do not have the courage to face the elders or admit their fault in front of them.

Abuse (violence in the family)

  • Child abuse is one of the growing problems in modern generation family.
  • Due to terrible fights or domestic violence within the family, the teen feels irritated and disturbed with the whole situation.
  • The peaceful environment of the family gets lost and every time the situation seems worse. In such a scenario, the mentally-disturbed teen decides to run away and live in a peaceful environment.

Death in the family

  • When your teen remains close to any of their family members like mother, father or grandparent, a sudden demise appears like a nightmare.
  • The teen feels hard to accept the bitter truth and cannot handle the grief.
  • The loss of a close family member makes them feel alone in the world, and they decide to run away from their home.

Family financial worries

  • There are certain times when the family goes through financial distress. It can happen for numerous reasons, including sudden unemployment, massive loss in business, a family member suffering from chronic illness, or many things that may lead to poverty.
  • The financial instability reflects on the lifestyle of your teen, as they cannot afford all the luxuries or buy expensive things. During such times, your teen feels extremely depressed, panic-stricken and feels like running away.

Problems at school

  • The normal day to day problems to occur in schools are remaining inattentive in class, quarreling with other friends, bad performance in exams and lots of other things.
  • Unresolved harassment or bullying at school makes them enter into a state of mental depression, and they feel unable to escape from the complete situation.
  • Excessive pressure to do well at school academically from the parents makes a teen panic-stricken, and they feel the need to escape.
  • Such school problems make your teen feel stressed out and to run away from such a hectic lifestyle.

Difficulties in adolescence

  • Teens go through a difficult time when they cannot express their emotions or sentiments to others, even the parents.
  • It makes them feel useless, and they start thinking that their life is shit.
  • Adolescents who run away from home usually feel to escape out from a troublesome situation that they cannot face. Such events can include parental separation, sexual orientationiA person’s inclination or natural tendency to be attracted to a particular gender , financial crisis, bullying in school, and other trauma.
  • They want to escape out from the difficult circumstances and find new happiness.

Drinking alcohol or taking drugs

  • Drug addiction is one of the major causes to hamper the mental state of your growing kid.
  • Higher addiction to drugs leads to impulsivity and poor judgment skills in your teens.
  • As they become greatly addicted to harmful drugs like cocaine or heroin, they think of escaping and living in isolation, which usually leads to gang involvement.
  • Feelings of shame or guilt due to drug addiction or smoking make them feel depressed, and they have no other choice than to run away.

Parents separating or divorcing

  • Separation of parents throws a negative impression on your teen’s mind. They feel left out of the family circle and lose bonding with their dear parents.
  • The arrival of the stepparent makes the teen feel mentally depressed and alone. The neglect of either or both of their parents is another major factor making them realize that they are no longer loving or caring. All such negative emotions make them run away from their family and home.

Peer pressure

  • Peer pressure can also play a part in your teen’s running away. When your teen commits mistakes or fearful things, their instinct forces or encourages them to flee away from the near and dear ones.
  • As your teen lacks effective problem-solving skills, the only perfect solution that comes to their mind at the difficult time is running away. Instead of dealing with the situations courageously, running away appears a lot easier to your kid.

Personal crisis

  • Some of the runaway teenagers fear to face their personal issues like pregnancy, cultural differences, and pursue life as a bisexual, gay or lesbian.
  • Most of the transgender teens have issues with their sexual orientation, identity crisis, and they face lack of communication with their family members. These conditions leave them with only one option that is running away.
  • Approximately 75 percent of the runaway population is teenage girls, who become pregnant at a young age.

Mental illness

  • Teenagers suffering from mental health issues like severe depression or anxiety issues have poor decision-making ability. They become unable to handle difficult life situations and easily give up.
  • Since the depressed teen cannot understand their emotions or thoughts running through them, they decide to run away. A false realization comes to their mind that running away is the only solution to get rid of all family or social issues.
  • Another mental disorder that some of the teens come across is an oppositional defiant disorderiA condition characterized by a child's defiance and disobedience towards people with authority . They face a difficult time obeying authority and react aggressively to their elders or teachers.
  • Their actions appear harsh and impulsive, and they don’t want to follow anyone’s rules besides their own. These are some of the reasons why teenagers run away from home.

Mental illness can play a significant role in a teen running away. Nicole Dake, a blogger, shares her experience of running away from home as a teen and its underlying reason. She says, “When I was a teenager, my parents didn’t get me at all. They hated my friends and made me feel bad about myself. It shouldn’t have been any surprise that I ran away from home, but apparently, it came as a shock to them. There was never a question about my home life, or if I was happy. No one ever asked me why I ran away. After I came back from running away, my parents took me to get evaluated by a psychiatrist, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (i).”

Tips For Parents To Deal With A Runaway Situation

If you suspect that your teen has fled away, follow the effective tips:

  • Visit all the local places and hangout points to check if they are there or not.
  • Call all their closest friends and ask about the last time they met.
  • Check their rooms and belongings carefully to find some clues, like hotel booking bills or railway or air tickets.
  • Call the police station to report a missing diary.
  • Acquire caller ID in case your teenager calls you can detect their location easily.

Things To Remember, When Your Teen Comes Home

Calmly ask your teen why they fled away from home

Image: Shutterstock

Here are the effective measures that you need to take when your runaway teenager returns to home:

  • Take a break from each other- Do not start communication with each other directly, but take a small break. Your emotions are too high at the particular moment, and you can outburst in front of your child. It is better to allow your teen settle down and have a peaceful conversation in a day or two.
  • Ask and listen- Ask your teen calmly about the reasons for which they fled away from home. Never try to act rude or scold them unnecessarily, as it impacts negatively on your teen’s mind. It is better to handle the complete situation in a calm and positive manner.
  • Talk- Effective communication is the only step that helps to establish a stronger bonding between the teen and their parents. Let them know how worried you were, as they left the home and fled away. Make your teen realize that he is important to you, and you cannot think of your life without your adorable teen. Ask them to discuss the issues openly, so that both the parents can help them deal with the stressful situation.
  • Get some help- If your teen feels uncomfortable to communicate with you or your partner, it is better to involve a third person in communication. The third person could be their favorite persons like grandparent, uncle or aunt. Your teen easily discloses their personal issues with the close family member, who can advise them to take a better decision.

Preventing Teens From Running Away

Here are few tips that help you to deal with your troubled teenagers and prevent them from running away:

Handle the situations in a calm manner

  • Always approach the whole situation in a calm and composed manner and try to understand your teen’s viewpoint.
  • Always speak the right things and think before uttering your words. Be respectful.
  • Your communication skill helps to understand your teen’s mental status and take requisite measures to make them think positive about life.

Do not scream unnecessarily

  • Do not scream or yell unnecessary, as it can make the situation worse and your teen can even think of committing suicide.
  • Threatening your adolescent can in no way help in controlling the complete situation.
  • It is better to stay calm and make your kid understand your feelings and emotions.

Give a warning sign

  • After having the complete conversation, give a warning to your teen by saying, “If you run away I can do nothing, but it will hamper your entire future life. If anything happens, I will not be able to protect you or solve your problems. So, it’s better you not run away and put your life at risk.”

Have regular conversation

  • Always have regular day to day chats with your teenager, to judge their behavior and check if he feels disturbed or not.
  • If you notice that your teen behaves a bit differently than the normal day, try to have a detailed conversation in a day or two.
  • Listen to their complete problem and try to offer a helpful solution. In such a way, you are constantly giving them interest and affection.

Take a break

  • If your viewpoint does not match with your teenager’s thinking, never end up with an argument.
  • Try to listen to their viewpoint, because there are times when they might talk about justifying things.
  • If you observe that the things are getting out of control, take a break and then have the conversation after a few hours.

Take your teen to an experienced counselor

Take your teen to an experienced counselor

Image: Shutterstock

  • If your teen feels like running away more often, take them to a professional counselor. The counseling sessions help to soothe their mindset and make them positive about life.

Speak about your past life

  • If your teen faces serious problems in his life like drug addiction or financial issues, try to have a conversation and speak about your young age.
  • Explain to your kid that you have faced a similar crisis in your past life and you have dealt with those situations.
  • Listening to your past story, your kid gets motivated and tries to cope up with the difficult times courageously.

Teach problem-solving skill

  • Teach you teens about “problem solving” skills and ask them to imply them into their real life.
  • They need to find different ways to handle different situations in their life. But they should never give up hope and start thinking negative things. Instead, they should remain active to deal with boredom and every difficult phase of their life.

Never interrupt their conversation

  • Never interrupt your teen when they come to have an open conversation or friendly talk with you. Sometimes it is more effective just to listen to them.
  • Pay some respect to your teen’s viewpoint also and keep the communication open by listening to what they have to say.

Express love

  • Express your love and affection towards your growing teen, as it helps to strengthen the family bonding.
  • Explain how much you love them and that you cannot spend life without them.

Never start conversation with negative comments

  • Always have a positive talk with your teens. Never start your communication with a negative sentence like, “Why are you so upset?” or “Why do you roam here and there every day?”
  • Instead try to remain polite and ask simple questions like, “How was your day” or “Hey, what’s going on?”

Explain situations calmly

  • Whenever your teens threaten you about running away, respond to them by saying, “Running away is not a solution to your problem.”
  • Encourage them to solve her problems courageously and if required you are always there to offer mental support.

Never panic

  • Do not enter into the state of mental depression or panic mode that your teen will run away and never come back to you and your family.
  • Most of the runaway teens return to their home very soon. They miss the homely environment, loving parents, friends and family members.
  • All the factors influence the teen’s mindset to return to home as soon as possible. More than two-thirds of homeless teens resolve their family differences and go home.

Take hold of family disputes

  • More important of all, if the teen gets upset due to family issues like parents getting divorce, arrival of a step parent or a fight of a parent, try to take hold of the situation.
  • Family problems impose negative influences on your teen’s mind and make them run away.

Boost your teen’s morale

  • The most important thing you can teach your teen is problem-solving skills. Talk about different difficult situations and ask them, “How will you handle the problem?” or “What strategies will you adopt to come out of the situation?”
  • Encourage your kid to approach every problematic situation in a positive manner and reward your teen if they successfully handle it.
  • Boost your teen’s confidence level by saying “I am proud of you.”You teen feels appreciated and humble with your positive gestures and feels confident.

Create an atmosphere of acceptance

  • Your homely environment must have the essence of acceptance and forgiveness. You cannot remain excessively rude or arrogant to your growing teen.
  • When your teen commits some mistakes or performs badly in their exams, try to encourage and accept their performance. If you scold or make them feel guilty, they may often think of running away.
  • It is important for the parents to create a homely and loving atmosphere in their house, rather than compelling their kids for their tasks or educational performance.

Use Persuasive Language:

  • It is always preferable to use persuasive language when facing your teen. The talking approach helps to persuade your depressed child and makes them feel positive.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do teenage runaways survive?

Many teenage runaways live on the streets, some are fortunate enough to stay with their friends, and a vast majority fall into the wrong side of the law dealing with drugs, prostitution, and other crimes to survive.

2. What percentage of teens run away?

Estimates on the­ annual percentage of teenagers who run away vary. However, research indicates that roughly 5% to 8% of adole­scents in the United States choose to leave their homes each year (2).

3. How does the influence of social media contribute to teenage runaways?

Studies on teens who use social media reveal that these platforms can impact a teenager’s mental health and lead to problems like anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, and poor body image. In addition, excessive social media use can create communication barriers due to behavioral changes and problems in socializing. Moreover, they increase the risk of cyberbullying, online stalking, and imposter syndrome, which could contribute to problematic behaviors such as running away from home (3).

Adolescence brings turbulent physical and physiological changes that can make a teen susceptible to emotional agitations and fluctuations. Emotional abuse at home and substance abuseiAbuse or excessive consumption of illegal drugs, alcohol, prescription, or OTC medications are common reasons teens run away from their homes. Keep a watch on your teen’s behavior to detect any changes that indicate that your teen might run away. Creating a happy and healthy home environment, having open conversations regularly, showering them with love and affection, and teaching them positive coping skills are a few effective ways to prevent your teen from running away.

Infographic: Preventing Teens From Running Away

Teens may leave home or school for various reasons, which can lead to homelessness. To prevent this, parents and caregivers need to take steps to reduce the risk of teenage runaways, as shown in the infographic below. Although it may not be easy, it is necessary to follow these measures to preserve a teenager’s well-being.

tips to prevent teens from running away (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Substance abuse, fear, failure, and anger are contributing factors that can trigger a runaway episode.
  • Indicators include sudden mood or behavioral changes in the teen, frequent instances of reckless behavior and threats, and prolonged periods of isolation.
  • Teens may run away due to violence at home, death in the family, financial difficulties, school-related problems, and issues associated with adolescence.
  • If a teen runs away, searching all familiar hangout spots, contacting close friends, inspecting the teen’s belongings, and notifying the police station are advised.
  • It can be prevented by handling situations calmly, engaging in regular communication, expressing affection, and getting professional help.
Why Do Teens Runaway_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team


Running away from home can be a difficult decision for kids. This video will explore why kids make this choice and the consequences.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Ruby J Martinez; (2006); Understanding runaway teens.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16671922/
  2. Runaway Youth: Caring for the Nation’s Largest Segment of Missing Children.
    https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/145/2/e20193752/68225/Runaway-Youth-Caring-for-the-Nation-s-Largest?autologincheck=redirected
Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
The following two tabs change content below.
Katherine Paxton

Katherine PaxtonApplied Psychology Program

Katherine Paxton is an internationally-known award winning author of the book “Counselling people on the autism spectrum; A practical manual”. She graduated from a tri-university Applied Psychology Program of Campus Alberta (University of Alberta, Athabaska University, and University of Lethbridge).
Read full bio of Katherine Paxton