How to talk to your teen about running away from home

"I suppose if I could give advice about how I felt looking back and what could have been different (and what I’m making sure I do differently with my children) the main thing would be TALK. Open and honest conversations about sex, drugs, alcohol, everything."  JacquelineHyde

Talking to your children about the topic of running away from home is a good idea: for a start, it might make them think twice if they ever found themselves considering it. And if you’re worried they might be thinking about it, you need to get them to open up about what’s making them unhappy.

Having a conversation with a teenager can be hard at the best of times, though – especially when your once-garrulous child now only emits a monosyllabic grunt when you ask them a question. And many teens find it downright excruciating when their parents try to bring up tricky issues or talk about feelings.

So here are a few tips for how to broach the subject.

Find a prompt

Talk to your teenA good way to bring up tricky issues with teens is to use a book, film, magazine article or soap storyline to casually broach the subject. For example, Ed Sheeran’s song The A Team is all about the reality of living on the streets. And the new teen novel Invisible Girl by Kate Maryon tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who runs away from home.

Pegging your conversation on something fictional makes it easier to talk about the issue in more general terms, rather than seeming intrusive or like you’re interrogating your child.

Do your homework

Read up on facts and stats about running away (our page about the risks of running away might be a good place to start). Teens can seem so grown-up and worldly wise, it’s easy to forget that they’re still children, and might actually be quite naïve about what life on the streets entails. They might romanticise running away as an opportunity for a new start and a way to get away from the rules and routines of home. They might even assume that there are plenty of safe places they can go. The reality might come as a shock.

Be prepared to talk about other tricky issues as well, like sex and drug abuse – running away from home can’t be treated as one topic in isolation.

Don’t worry about putting ideas in their head

It’s completely understandable to worry about this. But if your child has no intention of running away, having a conversation with them about it is unlikely to suddenly inspire them to do it. More importantly, if they are thinking of running away, talking to them about it gives you the chance to nip it in the bud.

Make it easy for them to talk to you

As a teen it can be hard to open up and talk about your feelings and what’s going on in your life – especially to your parents, who you worry might judge or even punish you for it.

‘If you want your teen to open up, then you need to create an atmosphere where they feel they don't need to fear your response to what they have to say,’ says psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott. ‘You need to accept in advance that you may not like what you’re going to hear but it's important to be as receptive as you can be. Maybe run through worst case scenarios in your mind beforehand to prepare your response and get your 'appalled' reaction out of the way in private.’

Tell them about your experiences

Be honest with them and let them know that it's not just them who can find it difficult to open up. Sometimes it can be helpful to remind them you were once a teen too, in their position, squirming in front of your mother. Thinking and talking about your own experiences when you were growing up could help bring you together.

Don’t expect to have all the answers

Many young people who run away from home say that they didn’t feel like they were being heard, or that communication with their parents had broken down. You might not be able to stop your child feeling unhappy, or sort out what’s bothering them. But often, just showing that you’re there for your child and willing to listen is enough.

‘There is no such thing as a 'perfect parent',’ says Dr Scott. ‘Sometimes you will be neither wise nor sensible. You will not always have all the answers, so never pretend you do. They won't believe you, anyway. Being honest with your child about your own fallibility is crucial to having a good relationship with them.’

Mumsnetters asked the experts their questions on running away from home – find out more in these two Q&As:

 

Last updated: 23-Aug-2013 at 5:03 PM