What to do if your teen runs away

Young people run away for a range of reasons – it may be that you have been arguing for some time, or it may be to do with problems that your teenager feels unable to talk to you about like bullying, sex and relationships, drugs, or a combination of problems.

In the midst of an argument your teenager may threaten to run away, or you may in fact tell them to go - you’ve had enough. But in the majority of cases, when the teenager has actually run away both adult and teen wish they could turn the clock back and prevent it from happening.

Making sure the threat doesn’t become reality

When there have been problems building up for sometime it is often difficult to step back. But sometimes you may need to take time out and think about what your teenager is telling you. Give them the space to tell you what is going on from their perspective.

You do not have to agree with everything they say but listening is important. If your teenager can see that you’ve taken on board their concerns, they are more likely to listen to you in turn.

How to find your runaway teen

If they do leave start looking in the most likely places – their friend’s houses and your relatives. As you contact their friends ask them to let your teenager know, should they see them, that:

  • you want them back
  • you’re not angry
  • you’d be relieved to have them home and safe.

Let them know there are ways they can keep in touch with services like Message Home, provided by the Missing People helpline. If you cannot find your teenager through these contacts, try social services and local hostels. Many travel to another area so think about where they would be most likely to go. 

Returning home

If your teenager has run away and decides to return don’t expect all the problems to have disappeared. Discuss what returning home might be like before they come back so that neither of you have any false expectations.

Encourage them to talk to you about any problems they are facing and be prepared to listen. Be aware that some things that might have happened to them since they have been away may be difficult to talk about. Some local organisations offer mediation services which might be able to help and be prepared to make some concessions and meet your teenager halfway.

At first your teenager may get in touch but be unsure about returning home, you may have your own concerns about them coming back to your home as well. You may feel you need some time to sort things out in your mind. In this case it may help if a close friend or relative could allow your teenager to stay. You will then be reassured they are safe and you can start to talk things through at an agreed meeting point – somewhere that feels comfortable for both of you.

  • Give each other space
  • Be prepared to compromise
  • Recognise it is going to take time to sort things through.
  • Get help with talking things through.


teenage runaway

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