According to the National Runaway Switchboard and the Center for Adolescent Recovery and Education, more than 1.5 million teens run away from home each year. While there are many different individual catalysts, the underlying cause for teens running away from home is due to some sort of emotional burden they are carrying. Ultimately, these teenagers may feel as though they have no one to turn to, and running away is simply a cry for help.
Lack of Family Bonds
According to a study at the University of Chicago, the single most common reason teens choose to run away from home is feeling they don’t have the support and understanding of family members, most often their parents. While most of the pressures teens face often come away from home, such as at school, it is critical for teens to know that home is always a safe haven. Irrelevant of what is happening outside the home, the Chicago study found that if teens have a strong support system they feel they can rely on within their family, the odds of them running away greatly decline. However, if there is resistance or indifference inside the family to the emotional struggles teens often face, teens may feel they are not understood, accepted and appreciated, all of which are precursors to teens choosing to run away from home. Issues within the home can also cause teens to run away. If family life itself becomes unbearable, such as parents constantly arguing, strict discipline, or being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, the teen may feel she has no choice but to leave home to escape the conflict or abuse.
Trouble at School
Unresolved harassment or bullying at school can often cause a teen to feel as if the only way out is to run away from home, as he may feel that the issues at school are too large to overcome. Excessive pressure to do well at school academically from parents, and sometimes unreasonable teachers, can make teens feel they need to escape. Conversely, poor performance academically may also make teens feel they need to escape. The University of Chicago study also found that less common, but still relevant, school-related reasons teens decide to leave home include dress code requirements they aren’t comfortable with and peer pressure to engage in alcohol and drug use or sexual activities.
Sex and Drugs
Pressure from friends to engage in drug use, including alcohol, can lead to teens running away from home to escape the stress. Alcohol and drug use and addiction can make teenagers leave home in order to have more freedom to indulge their habits. Discovering they have a non-heterosexual orientation may cause teens to feel a need to run away, to escape what they fear will be reprisals and castigations, or if they have experienced negative criticism for reveling their sexual feelings to their parents, classmates and friends. Teen pregnancy is also a common factor in teens choosing to run away from home, for both boys and girls. Feelings of shame, guilt and remorse for becoming pregnant, or causing a pregnancy, can be overwhelming for teenagers, causing them to feel they have no other choice than to run away.
Persuasion and Coercion
Encouragement from others is often a key factor in teens deciding to run away from home. Teens who feel they have no choice but to leave home may try to encourage their friends to run away with them. As a result, other teens, who would otherwise have no desire to leave home, may run off with their friend out of a sense of duty, or for fear that the friend may need help or get into trouble without them. Adults who prey on children, such as sexual predators and drug dealers, may encourage and persuade teens to run away from home, for the adult’s own personal gain.
- National Runaway Switchboard
- C.A.R.E. School: Tips for Parents to Prevent a Runaway Teen
- Focus Adolescent Services: Why Teens Run Away
- At Risk Teens: Teens That Run Away
- The Crisis in Youth Mental Health: Critical Issues and Effective Programs; Hiram Fitzgerald, Ph.D., et al.