The teen years are a time for exploration and discovery, and teenagers sometimes challenge behavioral boundaries set by parents, schools and society. For many teens, this means staying out late or refusing to follow directions. More defiant teens test the rules by running away from home. Not all teens run away to challenge authority -- some flee due to pressures from family or to escape abuse at home.
1. Personal Crisis
Some runaways fear the reaction at home to personal issues, including pregnancy or the need to pursue life as a bisexual, gay or lesbian. Interviews with homeless youth reported by the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth found that transgendered, bisexual, gay, lesbian and teens unsure of their sexual orientation often fail to communicate with family members, have negative peer relationships and also experience violence because of their sexual orientations. These conditions make running an option for many teenagers. Girls make up approximately 75 percent of the runaway population, and anywhere from 6 percent to 22 percent of these runaway girls are pregnant and without a permanent home, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
2. Parent Conflicts
Many teens run after fights with parents or when parents become exasperated with children after repeated fights and conflict. Between 1.6 and 2.8 million children, the majority between the ages of 12 and 17, run away each year. Almost half of the runaways in studies reported by the National Runaway Safeline list the cause for running as a conflict with a parent or guardian. Parents tell some teens to leave the house after conflicts, and these "throwaway" youth typically come from families on public assistance or families living in federally funded housing.
Addiction plays a major role in the motivation for teenagers to run away. Family members dependent on drugs and alcohol create an impossible home life for some teens. Many runaway teens have personal addiction issues themselves that lead to leaving home to continue the drug or alcohol abuse. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 18 million Americans have an alcohol disorder or regularly abuse alcohol, and many of these people can't keep jobs because of their alcoholism. The institute notes that excessive drinking frequently leads to arguments with family members when under the influence.
Teens run away when faced with physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The National Runaway Safeline notes runaways list abuse as a major reason for running, and many of these teens also fear abuse from family when returning home after a spending time as a runaway. Children between the ages of 12 and 17 are the most likely to be sexually abused, and the perpetrators in almost half the cases are family or extended family members, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Abuse by family members make running away appear to be the best option for teenagers who are unable to find help to change an abusive home life.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Homeless and Runaway Youth
- National Runaway Safeline: National Runaway Safeline 2013 Crisis Connection -- Trend Report Fact Sheet
- National Runaway Safeline: Learn -- NRS Statistic on Runaways
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Use Disorders
- U.S. Department of Justice NSOPW: Raising Awareness About Sexual Abuse -- Facts, Myths, and Statistics
- National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth: Primary Sources -- How Do LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness Feel About Family, School and Friends?
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images