Being rebellious as a teenager is a normal part of life. The teen years are filled with the exploration of independence, learning what it means to grow up, and still having to balance taking orders from parents, teachers, and others in authority. Sometimes that just doesn’t work for kids and so the temptation to run away becomes overwhelming. Rebellion, however, is only one primary cause of runaways happening.
1 out of every 2 teenage runaways in shelters or on the streets reports that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and just didn’t care.
Up to 2.8 million teens run away every year and the 12-17 year old age demographic is at a higher risk for homelessness than any adult age demographic. These kids are not usually in a place where they can care for themselves. Many runaway incidents are preventable.
Here Are 3 Fast Facts About Teenage Runaways
1. 47% of teens that run away or were homeless indicated that a conflict with their primary parent or guardian was the major reason why they left.
2. 80% of girls that ran away from home report having been physically and/or sexually abused.
3. 43% of all runaways report that physical abuse was experienced before leaving their home.
Takeaway: The issue with parents and teens is that the relationship needs to evolve, but sometimes it just doesn’t. Instead of actively listening and finding proactive interventions to keep a relationship healthy, some parents try to beat their kids into submission. In other instances, parents discipline their children so severely because of a dispute that they feel like there is no other option but to runaway. That doesn’t mean parents are 100% at fault in these circumstances, but there is one fact that must not be overlooked: in a parent-child dispute, it is the parent who must be the adult.
What Are The Risk Factors?
1. 70% of kids that have run away from home at least once say that they felt like their physical wellbeing was at risk in some way.
2. The most common reason why kids become runaways is because of either physical and/or sexual abuse that occurs at home or there is a fear that it will immediately happen.
3. Drug addictions that affect teens are the second most common reason why kids decide to become runaways.
4. 14% of youth on the street and 7% of youth runaways living in shelters report that they traded sex for food, drugs, money, or shelter at least once in the past 12 months.
5. 32% of runaways have attempted to commit suicide at least once during their lives – and that may occur before they decide to run away from home.
6. 12% of runaway kids have spent at least one night outside by themselves somewhere on the street, ranging from a bench in a park to the roof of their home.
7. 1 out of every 2 homeless runaways report that they were either expelled, suspended, or chose to drop out of school.
8. Up to 56% of teens that run away reporting having some sort of mental illness issue at some point in their life.
Takeaway: Desperate kids will do desperate things to survive. It is a sad state of affairs when a kid is willing to have sex with a stranger for money because that is a safer environment to them than their home. 7 out of 10 kids who become runaways feel like their home environment is threatening. Do drugs play a role in this issue? If you put abuse, the fear of abuse, and drug addiction together – all preventable and treatable issues – you would have the root cause of 90% of teen runaway incidents. That’s why it is important to be proactive, teach coping skills, and solve disputes creatively if needed so that kids can stay off the streets and out of shelters.
What Teens Decide to Run Away?
1. Boys and girls become runaways at an equal pace – each gender accounts for 50% of the runaway population, although some studies show 75% of runaways are girls.
2. 40% of kids that end up in shelters or out on the street come from families that have either received public assistance or live in housing that is public assisted.
3. GLBTQ youth are more likely to run away than kids that are heterosexual and are also more likely to stay with a stranger.
4. 34% of GLBTQ youth report food insecurity issues compared with 14% of heterosexual youth.
5. Girls who have been sexually abused at home are more likely to be sexually abused after becoming a runaway.
6. The longer a runaway stays out on the street, the more likely they are to be arrested.
7. Substance abuse risks are heightened by partner violence, truancy, and gang membership.
Takeaway: What these facts make clear is that every child is at risk of becoming a runaway if circumstances don’t go their way. Those who are outside of a heterosexual orientation, however, have an increased risk of having these circumstances occur to them. Because of this, it is important to have a support system in place that can help to prevent problems from occurring. Even kids who have already runaway and are homeless have a reduced risk of substance abuse if any adult who is supportive can come into their life.
Here’s What You Need to Know Right Now
1. One out of every 7 kids between the ages of 10-18 will choose to run away from home at least once.
2. Up to 22% of girls that choose to run away from home will become pregnant because of their choice to become a runaway.
3. 17% of runaways and homeless kids report that they were subjected to unwanted sexual activity by a member of their house or a member of their family.
4. Almost 50% of girls on the streets and 1 in 3 girls living in shelters report that they have been pregnant at least once in the past.
5. 63% of kids that live in homeless shelters suffer from some form of depression.
6. 17% of runaways have been involved with the local juvenile justice system in some way.
7. 5,000 kids die every year because of illness, disease, assault, or suicide while they are living on the streets.
8. HIV rates in runaways are up to 10 times higher than the average infection rates in the United States.
9. Black teen runaways have a disproportionate rate of running away, making up 27% of the total population of kids that choose to run away.
Takeaway: Being able to see the warning signs before a decision is ultimately made is extremely important. Although no parent can read the mind of their child, being rebellious is a common risk factor, but it doesn’t mean that is the sole reason why a teen may choose to run away. Risky behaviors, such as sex with multiple partners, committing crime, or using drugs also increase the risks. Grades that drop suddenly, strange mood swings, and changes in their routine are also risk factors. Always take a threat to run away seriously. Intervene if you see a collection of money that has been hidden or there are clothes that are packed and ready.
Why is Preventing Teen Runaways Important?
1. Less than 1% of all missing children reports are caused because the child has been abducted by a stranger. 90% of stranger abductions result in the return of the child.
2. 70% of kids describe their decision to become a runaway as something that happened at the “spur of the moment.”
3. Kids who runaway may begin engaging in what is called “survival sex” within 48 hours of leaving their home.
4. Over 70% of runaway teens have been considered to be endangered.
5. About 23% of runaway teens travel at least 50 miles in their journey away from home.
6. Only 7% of teens return home if they’ve run away for more than 30 days.
7. 9% of teens have decided to leave their state in the course of running away.
Takeaway: Although having 38,000 teens at risk of sexual endangerment seems like a rather low number from a national perspective, the fact remains that all household demographics are affected by this issue. There is a myth that teens choose to become runaways and so the decision is often treated as a voluntary one. If 9 out of 10 runaway incidents can be explained because of fear, abuse, or drug addiction, are these really voluntary choices? An approach that seeks to solve the issues instead of trying to assign blame – especially blame to the child – will be much more effective in preventing future teen runaways.
How Do Drugs Play a Role in Teen Runaways?
1. 17% of runaway teens were found using hard drugs.
2. 18% of runaway teens were found in the company of people who were known to be abusing drugs.
3. 19% of runaway teens were substance dependent upon being found.
4. 21% of abused teens wanted to return home, but were afraid that they would suffer more abuse if they did return.
5. 18% of runaways are 13 years old or younger.
6. 7% of teen runaways were found in the company of someone with a history of violence against others.
7. More than 70,000 kids in a recent survey stated that they had attempted suicide at least once in the past.
Takeaway: Knowing what children are doing behind closed doors is extremely important to preventing teen runaways. Sometimes that means making difficult choices as a parent to “snoop” on their child or to provide structure that the teen might feel is restrictive so that there is an open line of communication. Any evidence of drug use by a parent or guardian, even something as innocuous as caffeine, can lay the foundation in the teen that using drugs is ok to do in order to survive. With a focus on health parent/child relationships, even if that means agreeing to take a mutual journey of improvement, will become a catalyst that can prevent teen runaways from happening before a decision is made.
Here is Some Good News
1. 99% of teen runaways choose to return home at some point, even if they have chosen to leave the state where they live.
2. 7 out of 10 teen runaways will return home within the first 24 hours.
3. 2 out of every 3 runaways have a DSM diagnosable mental illness that, when treated, may resolve the issues that led to the decision to run away in the first place.
Takeaway: Just because a teen chooses to run away doesn’t mean that they have chosen not to love their parents or their family. Although there are some teens who are extremely intelligent and simply run away because they’re ready to start their own life in a healthy, safe manner, the majority of teens run away because they feel like there is no other outlet for them to take. Because of this, it is important to give kids options so they don’t feel like they must hit the panic button in order to survive.
How can parents give a desperate child some options? It means changing the family environment because something is obviously not working. That can end up taking a number of different forms, but this change has one thing in common with every parent/child relationship: it must come from the adult, not the teen. Sometimes teens just don’t open up, even when parents consistently try. Don’t give up! Try different modes of communication. Even if they do become a runaway, it’s not the end of the world.
If anything, it’s an opportunity to welcome them back home with loving arms and begin a conversation about making sure that doesn’t happen again.