When you were little, did you ever run away? Maybe you packed up your backpack
and made it down the driveway or around the corner to your friend's backyard. But
after a little while, you forgot why you were running away and it was getting dark
out, so you went home.
We hope that was the last time you thought about running away because there's a
big difference between thinking about running away (or walking a few blocks
down the street) and actually running away.
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, 1 in 7 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.
Why Kids Run Away
Remember how you felt the last time you got in a big fight with your parents or
one of your brothers or sisters?
That kind of anger and hurt can be what
pushes someone to run away from home.
In fact, most kids run away due to problems with their families. Some kids run
away because of one terrible argument. Some even decide to leave without ever having
a fight. They might have done something they're ashamed of, and they're afraid to
tell their parents.
These are problems faced by lots of kids and teens — and there are ways to
deal with all of these problems besides running away. Kids who think about running
away might not know how to solve tough problems or don't have adults to help them.
Sometimes a really big problem can make it seem like running away is the only choice.
Unfortunately, the problems kids hope to escape by running away are replaced by
other — sometimes even bigger — problems of life on the streets.
The Reality of Running Away
When you think about running away, you probably imagine that there will be no more
rules, no parent to tell you what to do, no more fights. Sounds great and exciting,
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).
Let's face it — stress is a
part of life, even for kids — but being able to deal with problems with confidence,
hope, and practical solutions makes kids less likely to run away.
To build your problem-solving skills, try to:
Know your emotions. Try to understand what you are feeling inside and use words
to describe it.
Express your emotions. Don't
be afraid to tell those close to you how you're feeling and why. Use words, not actions.
This is especially true for anger. Anger is one of the hardest emotions to manage
because it's so strong — but everyone needs to learn how to express angry feelings
Know how to calm yourself down after you're upset. Maybe you need to run around
outside, listen to music, draw, or write poetry. Do whatever safe things you need
to do to feel better.
When you have a problem, try to come up with a list of solutions. Get someone
else to help you if you can't think of at least three things to do. For each possible
solution, ask yourself: "If I do this, what would happen next?"
Get some help from trusted adults — someone like a parent, close relative,
teacher, or neighbor. Know who you can count on to support and help you.
If You're Thinking of Running Away
It might feel like there's no way to fix the problems that are making you think
about running away. If you can, tell your mom or dad how you feel. They need to know
that you're upset or that you're afraid they don't love you or want you around. It
may be possible to work together as a family to change things for the better. Sometimes
talking with a counselor
as a family can help.
If the problem is as serious as abuse and a parent is involved, then talk to a
teacher or counselor at school, a good friend's parent, a close relative, or another
trusted adult. Let that person help you find somewhere safe to stay. It might be hard
to share this secret because you may feel ashamed or afraid of getting someone in
trouble, but remember that abuse is never your fault.
Another option is to call the National Runaway Switchboard at (800) 621-4000.
It's open 24 hours a day and the call is free. The switchboard operators get thousands
of calls each year, many from kids who have run away or know someone who has.
If Your Friend Wants to Run Away
If your friend is thinking about running away, warn him or her about how tough
it will be to survive on the streets. Your friend is probably scared
and confused. Try to be supportive and help your friend feel less alone.
Remind your friend that, whatever the problem is, there are other ways to deal
with it, even if neither one of you can think of the ways right now. An adult will
know how to help.
It takes courage to tell an adult that your friend is about to run away, but try
to do this as soon as possible. Being a real friend doesn't mean keeping a secret
when it can hurt someone. It means doing the best thing possible for your friend.
And running away isn't a solution for either of you. It only leads to more problems