Many people who decide to run away envision a life that's exciting, glamorous, and mature, only to discover that's not the kind of life they get. Life for runaway teens is hard, and they often end up homeless, stealing, or even selling drugs or sex in an effort to make money. Every year in the United States, more than 5,000 runaway teens die, either from assault, illness, or suicide.
People tend to run away for a lot of reasons: abuse (whether it's physical, emotional, or sexual), family problems, or problems with school or their friends. Some run away because of alcohol or drug abuse — their own or a family member's. Others run away to be with someone.
Talk with your friend about what's bothering him or her and put your heads together to find better — and more constructive — solutions. At the same time, speak with an adult you trust as soon as possible, and tell him or her that your friend is talking seriously about running away. If you don't feel comfortable telling your parents, other adults in your life might be able to help out: another relative, a teacher, a coach, a school counselor, your family doctor, or a religious leader, for example.
A trusted adult may be able to help your friend understand that there are better alternatives to running away. If your friend is still serious about taking to the road, make sure he or she has the number of the National Runaway Switchboard: (800) RUNAWAY (that's (800) 786-2929). This number for runaway teens in need is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It provides crisis intervention, information, and local referrals. The service will even help runaway teens contact people back home by providing a message service and setting up conference phone calls.
A final note: If your friend does run away, or if you haven't seen him or her in a few days and you think that's what's happened, take action immediately. Talk to a trusted adult and explain that you believe your friend ran away. Don't be shy about sharing any information about where your friend might be going, and don't wait in hopes that he or she might come back after a few days. Your friend's life could depend on it — the sooner it is reported, the more likely your friend will be found safe.
Reviewed by: Jennifer Shroff Pendley, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2009
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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