National Runaway Switchboard - (800) 621-4000. It's open 24 hours a day and the call is free.

There is NO 24-hour waiting period for reporting missing children under 18.

The first 48 hours are the most important in locating your child.

Running Away is a Serious Problem

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, an organization that takes calls and helps kids who have run away or are thinking of running away, one in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point.

And there are 1 million to 3 million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the United States.

Teens that Runaway

It may be hard for a parent to understand why teen’s runaway, so here are a few reasons that may help you to understand. The teen may feel like they have to escape and get away from home to avoid something bad from happening.

For example, maybe you have been fighting a lot and they feel they just can’t go through it again. They may be afraid you will be mad at them for something they did or rules they disobeyed, or they may feel like you won’t forgive them so they have to leave. A teen may be afraid that something bad might happen if they don’t leave home; this could be a child living with a step-parent that they fight a lot with, this step-parent may make them feel like everyone would be happier without them. It is possible that the teen just feels like you don’t understand them, and they runaway to be with others that will let them be themselves, whether this is true or not. Most teens don’t even realize and understanding the consequences of this type of action, they act without thinking first. A teen may runway to meet someone you told them to stay away from; perhaps they think they love each other and runaway together. Sometimes just plain being lonely and begging for attention will cause a teenager to runaway.

Preventing Teen Runaways

Unfortunately we can’t completely prevent teens from running away, however, here are a few suggestions that may help.

Show your teen respect and keep communication open, listening to what they have to say. Don’t scream and yell, or threaten your teen, this will only make them want to leave. Do not interrupt your teenager when they do come to you to talk, sometimes it helps the most to just listen. When you don’t agree with your child at least listen to their side, then calmly give your side, if things start to get out of control, take a break from each other.

When you feel your child may runaway you can seek professional help with counseling, or just talk to them and explain how much you love them, and that you will always be there for them.

Signs to Look For

Even though you could never really know for sure what a teenager may be thinking, there are signs that you can look for that can help alert you to possible problems. One thing to look for is - do you ever agree on anything, or does it seem you only argue and fuss all the time? Is your teen acting withdrawn and completely unsociable? Do they never want to spend any time with the rest of the family? Does your teen act strange, or have extremely emotional feelings that are out of control?

Has your teen been hanging out with bad company, others who drink alcohol, use drugs, or other teens that just go out to look for trouble? When you notice these signs it would be wise to communicate with your teen, even when you have to get outside help to do so.

The Reality of Running Away

In reality, running away is anything but fun. Kids and teens who run away face new problems like not having any money, food to eat, a safe place to sleep, or anyone to look out for them. People with no home and no money become desperate, doing anything just to meet their basic needs. Because of this, they often find themselves in risky situations that would be frightening, even for adults. Runaway kids get involved in dangerous crimes much more often than kids who live at home.

Kids who live on the streets often have to steal to meet basic needs. Many take drugs or alcohol to get through the day because they become so depressed and feel that no one cares about them. Some are forced to do things they wouldn't normally do to make money.

The number of kids with HIV or AIDS and other diseases is higher on streets, too, because these kids might use IV drugs or have unprotected sex (often for money).

When a Teen Runs Away

Federal legislation was passed directing police to take reports immediately on any missing children under age 18, including runaways. Under the law, that information must be entered into the National Crime Information Center, a computerized database of victims and criminals maintained by the FBI. However, that doesn't mean police start to search immediately.

While police officers are required to take a report and assess every missing child case, only the children who are believed to be in danger or are under age 13 or mentally or physically disabled are automatically classified as "critical missing persons."

The Amber Alert is not intended for runaways or parental abductions except in life threatening situations and is intended only for the most serious, time-critical child abduction cases.

Things To Do When Your Teen Has Run Away

Dial 911 as soon as you suspect your child has disappeared and demand that a police report be filed immediately
After you call the police, call the Sheriff's Department, state police, and police from adjoining jurisdictions. File reports, record the officers' names, badge numbers, telephone, fax, and report numbers.

Record the officer’s name, badge number, telephone, fax and report numbers. Ask who will follow up the initial investigation.

Call missing children helplines, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST and Operation Lookout at 1-800-LOOKOUT.

Call runaway hotlines when you suspect your teen is a runaway, such as the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Check home computers and cell phones for leads such as online contacts and details of a planned meeting.

Check with your child's friends, work, neighbors, relatives, or anyone else who may know of your child's whereabouts. Ask them to notify you if they hear from your child.

Find out if any of your child's friends are missing. They may be together.

Go to your child's school, speak with teachers and staff, and go through your child's lockers and desks.

Notify U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Notify the local FBI office and have your child's description entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer. Obtain the nine-digit NCIC number for your child's case.

Notify the KLAAS KIDS Foundation - (415) 331-6867

Author's Bio: 

Dore Frances, PhD is a leading national educational / therapeutic consultant and is the Founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC. Dore has a Masters Degree in Child & Family Studies and a Doctorate of applied Human Development in Child and Family Development with an emphasis in Diverse Families and a minor in Child Advocacy.