Friday, May 11, 2007

When Children Runaway

We've been talking a lot about missing children this week...but one thing I haven't talked about yet is children who are "missing" by their own choice. I myself was a runaway teen, so part of me feels a little defensive when talking about how to bring runaways back home. After all, if the ran away, they obviously don't want to be there, right? But yesterday, when writing about missing kids, I learned about a runaway teen who ended up being held hostage for ten years. So, obviously, bad things can happen to kids who run away. In fact, today I found out that between 20-40% of runaways will get involved in drug use, prostitution, pornography and other dangerous situations.
I think it is important for runaway teens to be found... not necessarily so they can be locked up the way I was, but so they can possibly find out about services they can use to have a better relationship with their families and even to live independently if they can't or won't go home.
First of all, it is important to know the reasons why kids run away from home in the first place. They may run away to be with a person or people, or in a social situation, that is important to them. For instance, a teen might run away to be with a boyfriend or girlfriend that parents don't approve of, or to be able to spend more time with friends that the parents don't approve of. Some run away to avoid a consequence they think may be coming... for instance, a girl who is pregnant may run away from home, rather than tell her parents, because she's afraid they'll be angry or upset. They may run away to escape a painful experience that is going on in their life... for instance, child abuse, or trouble in school.

From, here is a list of things that parents or caregivers can do to help prevent their children from running away.

Never dare your child to run away because you think they may not.

Never use sarcasm or a negative attitude that demonstrates that you do not respect your teenager

Never raise your voice or yell - especially when your teenager is raising their voice or yelling.

Stay calm and quiet, make eye contact, and don't respond if your child is angry, shouting or in a rage. Waite until they are calm.

Never interrupt your teenager when they are talking or trying to explain something - even if you disagree. Waite until they are done.

Remind yourself that simply listening and that telling your child that you understand does not mean you will agree when they are finished, nor does it mean you will do what they seem to want.

Never call your teenager names or label them with words like liar, a thief, a brat, a punk, childish, immature, untrustworthy, selfish, cruel, unkind, stupid, etc... These words will not help. Your child will only begin to think of you in negative terms and may even start calling you worse names.

Talk less and use fewer words than your teenagers.

Tell you teenager that you understand what they are saying. Say "I understand." And if you don't understand, say "I'm not sure I understand, ...tell me again."

When you don't agree and you are certain that you understand your teenager's point of view (and your teenager believes you understand) tell your teenager. "I think I understand, but I don't agree with you. I want to think we can understand each other, but we don't have to agree."

Remember you can also agree with your child, but you don't have to let them do whatever they want. For instance, you might agree that their is be no significant difference between some teenagers who are 17 years old and some people who are 21 years old, but that does not mean you will allow teenagers to consume alcohol at a party at your house.

Never explain yourself or argue if your child expects you to justify the fact that you do not agree.

When your teenager stops talking, ask "Is there anything else you want to tell me."

If you get overwhelmed or upset, tell your child "I'm overwhelmed and a little upset. I need a break and a chance to calm down and think about this." Then tell them you want a 20 minute (or so) break and then you will talk to them again. Be sure to take a break.

Get professional advice from a qualified mental health professional if your child is demanding, threatening or acting as if they should be allowed to do whatever they want.

When two parents are speaking with a teenagers, it is important to take turns, but be careful to let your teenagers speak as much as BOTH parents speak. Both parents should talk equally and use less words than their child.

Develop a Crisis Intervention plan for your teenager if the situation involves a crisis or recurrent crises.

Seek an evaluation and advice from a qualified mental health professional or crisis intervention specialist if your child may be self-harming, suicidal, destructive or violent.

Seek counseling or therapy for any emotional problems or difficulties associated with any angry, violent or suicidal behavior from a qualified mental health professional.

Evaluate any alcohol and other drug use and treat as recommended by a qualified professional.

Encourage a medical evaluation and treatment for any mental illness or other medical condition requiring medication or medical treatment.

If appropriate, consider enrolling and participating in an educational or skills training group that will improve communication and interpersonal skills (e.g. parenting skills, communication, divorce adjustment, assertiveness training, conflict resolution, or strategies to diffuse angry, aggressive and violent behavior).

Develop a plan that will minimize and limit all communication that usually leads to conflict, aggression or violence and take steps to resolve problems calmly. Establish a plan that supports communication.

If your child does runaway, though, here is alist of things that you can do immediately.

If you are certain that the child ran away and was not abducted:

Check with your child's friends, neighbors, relatives, school staff, employer/co-workers (if applicable) and anyone else who may know his or her whereabouts. Ask them to notify you immediately if they hear from the child.

Check locations that your child tends to frequent.

If you are not living together, contact the child's other parent to determine if he or she has any information.

Check the child's room, child's school locker and desk for clues regarding where he or she may have gone and with whom (e.g., notes, letters, maps).

Determine if possessions are missing (e.g., clothing, pictures, money). If the child has access to checking or savings accounts, determine if, when and where withdrawals have been made.

Check past telephone bills for unusual long-distance calls.

Review information stored on computers and disks. Pay close attention to e-mail,

chat and instant messaging activity.

Check area hospitals and transportation terminals.

Notify a law enforcement agency and provide them with available details, including:
Biographical information and photographs.
Names of friends, relatives and acquaintances.
Locations which your child tends to frequent.
Suspected destinations and accomplices.
Prior disappearances and outcomes.

Keep a detailed list of people and agencies that you have contacted and steps that you have taken. Logging these events lessens duplication of efforts.

If the child has run away before, contact the person that he or she was with during the previous episode. Also, check the location(s) where he or she stayed during that previous episode.

Call local runaway hotlines and the National Runaway Switchboard (1-800-621-4000). Ask if you child has left any messages.

Contact runaway shelters in any areas where you suspect that your child may be.
Remain in contact with the law enforcement agency handling the case. Report any information to assigned officers as soon as possible.

Continue to contact neighbors and your child's friends to determine if they have any pertinent information.

Obtain "caller ID" to determine the origin of incoming telephone calls. If your child or anyone calls collect, ask the operator for "time and charges" before you accept the call. Stay on the line after conversation has concluded.

If your child does call, strive to keep lines of communication open with your child - avoid being judgmental. Provide your child with the National Runaway Switchboard telephone number... 1-800-RUNAWAY... if he or she is not ready to return home. They can give you and your child a place to relay messages to each other. They can also arrange for shelter and transportation home.

Remember... when a kid runs away from home, its for a reason... and even if you do manage to find the child and bring him or her home, unless you deal head-on with the reason that made the child run away in the first place, they're just going to run away again. You can bring a child home and lock him up in a mental hospital, and he'll run away the minute he gets out. You can sign her over to the state and have her live in a residential treatment center until she's 21, but if you've never dealt with the problem, the child will turn 21 and run anyway. A child running away is a cry for help, and sometimes its the whole family that needs to change.

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