Why do teenagers run away from home?


Railway children

Having a child run away from home is pretty much every parent's nightmare. And sadly, it's much more common than you might think.

It's estimated a child runs away from home or care every five minutes in the UK. In a recent survey, one in 11 teenagers aged 14 to 16 admitted to having run away overnight at some stage in their life*. (On average, that's the equivalent of more than two children in your child's class at school.)

But it's impossible to know the true scale of the problem: two-thirds of runaways aren't reported as missing to the police, and many are too vulnerable or scared to seek official help.

Research shows this can happen to anyone, with as many children running away from affluent homes as from low-income households. And running away is slightly more common among girls than boys.

A lot of teenagers who run away decide to do so on the spur of the moment. This means they probably won't have thought about where they'll go, where they'll sleep, how they'll get access to money or how running away might affect their family. 

What Mumsnetters say

I think one thing that this should teach us all as parents is that it could happen to any family and it's complacent to think otherwise..... gazzalw

I was quite shocked how many children run away, i've never even thought abou this as a possble occurance with my own kids but guess nobody is immune pdb

I ran away at 15 and sofa surfed and lived rough for a long time. I remember sleeping in a town centre toilet for a few nights – well, I didn't sleep much, as you can imagine. I had a lovely upbringing in what would be considered a middle class home. When people I know now learn that I was a runaway and the types of people that forced me to socialise with, they are shocked. I suppose I don't fit the stereotype. JacquelineHyde

Why children run away

Often, they're running away from problems at home or at school. Some are dealing with very serious issues at home, such as neglect, drug and alcohol addiction (their own or their parents), mental health problems, violence and abuse. A few teens are even forced to leave home by their parents or carers.

Others come from perfectly 'normal' family backgrounds and are trying to escape common problems, such as bullying, relationship difficulties, loneliness or family breakdown.

But the problems teenagers face on the street are often even worse than those they have endured at home. In many cases, children and young people who end up alone on the streets are at risk of sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol dependency, abuse and violence.

Talking to other parents who've grappled with the same issues can help arm you with new tactics and a fresh perspective: chat to other parents 24/7 on Mumsnet's Teenagers Talk board.


*Source: The Children's Society, Still Running III, 2011

Last updated: over 1 year ago