Teen Runaways

Teen runaways: information and tips on national teenage runaway statistics, which teens are at risk for running away, reasons teen runaways run, warning signs a teenager may be considering running away, and ways to prevent teen runaways.

Some troubled teens are high risk for becoming teen runaways when they feel like they can't handle problems at home. This can be a frightening experience for parents and for teens. Those at risk of becoming teen runaways, and their families, need help to resolve their issues and reduce the chances that the teen will actually run away.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 1.6 to 2.8 million young people run away every year. Many teen runaways quickly find that running away is worse than the problems they have at home, but they may be afraid to go home. Half of teen runaways who call the National Runaway Switchboard for help have been on their own less than a week.

Teen runaways come from all races, neighborhoods, and families, and they have a variety of reasons for running away:

  • Teen runaways state problems at home as the reason for running away in at least half of teen runaway cases, and in many cases parents tell teens to leave or don't care if they do.
  • Substance abuse by the teen or a family member is another common cause of teen runaways choosing to leave.
  • Abuse by family members or others can also lead to teen runaways.
  • Death or divorce of parents may result in teen runaways if the teen feels like he/she can’t handle the situation.
  • Fear drives other teens to run away, either fear of severe punishments from parents or fear of others in their neighborhood, like gang members.
  • Occasionally teens may think running away is an adventure or that it will give them more freedom.
  • A recent report by CBS news also points to financial problemsat home result in teen runaways, either because their families can't support them, or because they were under too much pressure to contribute at home and felt like they couldn't handle it.

Whatever their reason for running away, most teen runaways find that it creates many new problems for them, and puts them at risk for serious issues like:

  • Dropping out of school
  • Homelessness
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation
  • Unwanted teen pregnancy
  • Drug abuse and teen drug addiction
  • Theft and other illegal activities
  • Homicide
  • Suicide<

Parents of troubled teens should be aware of signs exhibited by teen runaways before they run, including:

  • Changes in personality or behavior, including withdrawing from family or friends
  • Becoming rebellious, getting in trouble at school or with the law, or fighting a lot at home
  • Threatening to run away
  • Writing about running away, such as online, or telling friends they are thinking of running away
  • Gathering money and possessions, such as keeping a backpack with clothes and money

If a parent notices these or other changes in a teen’s behavior they should talk to the teen about their concerns and try to get help for the teen. They can also try these strategies, which may help to reduce the likelihood of the teen becoming another teen runaway:

  • Really listen when teens talk to you
  • Talk to teens every day and answer their questions honestly, especially about sensitive topics like drugs, alcohol, and teen sexuality
  • Help teens learn to see the long-term consequences of decisions
  • Praise teens for their positive traits and behaviors
  • Emphasize the importance of a good education
  • Avoid being overly strict with teens; try to have fair rules and enforce them consistently with reasonable consequences
  • Evaluate whether your expectations for your teen are realistic, and avoid trying to make them do too much or be someone they are not
  • Don't be afraid to seek professional help if you are worried about your teen. This may mean getting medical help for teens with a mental illness or substance abuse problem or getting counseling for teens and other family members if the teens have been through stressful family or social situations like violence or abuse, job loss, a divorce, or a death in the family

It is important that parents are willing to talk to their teens and seek help if they suspect their teens are in trouble. A doctor or counselor is a good place to start. Many communities have programs to help families who do not have insurance or cannot afford medical treatment and counseling.

If you have a teen runaway, call the police with a description of the teen. You may also want to call a local, state, and/or national hotline for missing children. These numbers can be found in most phone books.


National Runaway Switchboard, "NRS Statistics on Runaways" [online]

Mike Beebe, Arkansas Office of the Attorney General, "Keys to Safety: A Parent's Guide to Online Safety, Child Abduction, & Runaway Issues" [online]

Seth Doane, CBS News, "Surge of Teen Runaways in Salt Lake City" [online]

National Criminal Justice Reference Services, Abstract Database, Title: Teen Runaways [online]

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