We all go through difficult moments in life and sometimes those difficult moments seem to last forever. However, there is always hope and help if we know where to find it.
Being a teen is not easy. Teens often struggle to find their identity and become independent. Most teens feel misunderstood by parents and others close to them and some may even feel disconnected from everything around them. These feelings are all very normal and are usually balanced by the excitement of growing up and exploring the world in a healthy way.
Sometimes, however, personal frustrations along with problematic situations at home lead some teens to think about running away. Running away is a big decision that can have serious consequences both in the short and long term. Life on the streets is difficult and dangerous; not as attractive or exciting as is often portrayed in movies and books.
In this article you’ll learn more about that reality of what it’s like to run away, and you’ll also learn about some other options that could help you. The following website will also give you good information to consider when making a decision about how to solve the painful or difficult situation you’re in. You can also call them at 1-800-RUNAWAY. http://www.1800runaway.org/
If you are thinking about running away, first consider the many dangers you would be exposed to on the streets. It is not just about facing extreme weather conditions. Homeless teens, and adults as well, are subject to assault, rape and prostitution and may contract life-threatening illnesses such as Hepatitis and HIV. The link below provides additional information about what happens to many runaway teens once they are on the street.
Emergency youth shelter programs are available nationwide and provide the basic necessities. Many youth shelters also provide other beneficial services such as counseling and case management. However, youth shelter services are in high demand and they may not be able to accommodate you if there is no space available. Click on the link below to get more information about youth homeless shelters.http://www.homelessshelterssite.org/youth-shelters.html
Most adult shelters do not accept teens. Be aware that adult shelters may not be safe for teens. Click on the links below to learn more about some of the dangers associated with adult homeless shelters.
Most states have laws about the age that teens can leave home and what is to be done if they runaway. It is good to familiarize yourself with these when thinking about running away. Click on this link to learn about the legal aspects of leaving home:
After reading the information provided by the links above, you may begin to realize that running away could actually create more problems for you than it would solve. However, you may also be thinking that you cannot possibly cope with your problems at home either.
While your situation at home may be really difficult, it is best to think about other options before you make such a big decision. Give some thought to the following:
WHY DO I WANT TO LEAVE HOME?
It is good to have a clear understanding of why you want to leave home. Try to clearly identify the reasons by making a list of the things and/or situations that are causing you to want to run away. These may include:
- Being sexually or physically abused at home
- Living with parents who fight a lot and hit each other
- Living with parents who are alcoholics or drug users
- Being neglected: there isn’t sufficient food, clothing, or medicine at home
- Feeling very sad (depressed) and/or wanting to hurt yourself
- Using drugs or alcohol yourself
- Being pregnant
- Having difficulty expressing your sexuality or not being understood or accepted by your parents because of your sexuality (i.e. gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.)
- Not getting along with your parents and siblings
These are only a few examples. Your particular situation may or may not be one of the above. The important thing is to be honest with yourself and clearly understand the reasons why you want to leave home. Once you have identified the reason(s), you can begin to create a list of possible solutions for the situations you are experiencing.
WHAT ARE SOME OPTIONS?
What to do is the second question to ask yourself. Write down a second list with possible solutions to the problems you identified. Do not include running away as a possible solution, but give yourself room to be creative and look for all possible options. For example:
- If you are being sexually or physically abused at home
- Confide in a trusted adult, be it friend or relative. School counselors and/or teachers are also good resources and can provide you with other avenues for getting help. You may want to contact someone at a church, temple, or mosque for help. For additional information about abuse and how to get help click on the links below.
- You can get help by contacting your local Child Protective Services Agency hotline. You can find the hotline phone number either on the internet or the phone book. You can also call 1-800-4-A-Child to get a list of local child protection agencies and other resources.
- When you call your local Child Protective Services agency be prepared to give them information about you, your family and your particular situation. Based on the information you give them, the agency may assign a social worker to help you and your family and/or may ask you to contact other local agencies that can give you additional help. In some cases, if your parents are not willing or able to keep you safe, the social worker may place you in a foster home or with a relative until your parents are able to safely care for you again.
- Feeling very sad (depressed) and wanting to hurt yourself – everyone feels sad once in a while, but depression is a more serious and persistent condition. It can have many different symptoms including hopelessness, irritability, too much or too little sleep and loss of interest in the things and activities that used to be important to you. Depression can diminish your ability and/or desire to study, spend time with friends and communicate with your family. While depression can be a very debilitating condition, it can be treated with counseling and medicine. Your school may have a counselor or nurse onsite who can give you advice and may refer you to other local counseling resources specializing in helping teens. Click on the link below to find out about school counselors and how they can help you.
- If you have a doctor whom you see on a regular basis, you may also talk to her/him about your symptoms and ask for a referral to a therapist. For more information and resources about depression, click on the links below.
- People who are depressed may also feel a desire to hurt themselves or others. If you feel like you want to hurt yourself, it is important that you seek help immediately. Call the national hotline number below for 24-hour confidential advice and support. You may also click on the link for more information.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Living with parents who quarrel a lot and hit each other - Violence at home can be very stressful and you may feel powerless and afraid. In most instances, it is the man who hits the woman, but there are also cases in which women hit men. Families affected by this type of violence often do not talk about the situation or get help due to denial, fear and shame. It is important to know that as the child in the family, your parents’ violent behavior is that it is not your fault. Seek help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for confidential support and information, or visit the web site below for additional resources.
- Living with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs. If you live with parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, you know firsthand the problems that addiction can create and the harm it does to family life and relationships. Parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol cannot provide the care and supervision that children need and often turn violent or indifferent. Drug addiction also leads to loss of income, poor health and even death. If your parents are not willing or able to get help for themselves, you can take the lead. Contact your local child protection agency and explain your situation. They may provide help for you and your parents and may place you in a safe home until your parents recover from their addiction. You may also obtain additional information by calling 1-800-4-A-Child.
- Drug or alcohol abuse – Using controlled substances such as alcohol and drugs can seem like a harmless way to have fun or escape from a troubling situation. However, what starts as a fun experience soon turns into the nightmare of addiction. If you are experimenting with drugs, take time to learn about the real dangers of substance abuse. The websites below offer resources and information about substance abuse and treatment.
- Being pregnant – While it may be very difficult for you to tell you parents that you are pregnant, it would certainly be even more difficult to be pregnant alone on the streets. The link below offers advice on how to discuss your pregnancy with your parents.
- Having difficulty expressing your sexuality or not being understood/accepted by your parents because of your sexuality (i.e. you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.) – Sexuality is a difficult topic to discuss with your parents, particularly if your sexuality is other than straight. While many parents nowadays are more understanding, there is still a great deal of bias and misconception about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning. If you are thinking about coming out to your parents and are afraid of their reaction, click on the links below for some suggestions and advice.
- Not getting along with your parents and siblings – While, this can be a very frustrating situation, it is also very common for teens. Do not succumb to frustration and try to keep your cool. Talk to your parents when you and they are not tired, hungry or angry. Choose a neutral location, far from distractions such as phones, TV, radio, etc. Sometimes going to a nearby park or taking a walk with your parents can be an excellent way to find time to talk. If you do not feel safe talking to your parents alone, ask another relative or adult friend to be with you. The link below can give you other ideas.
It may be that after considering all the possible alternatives and looking into available resources you still decide to runaway. If you do so, be sure to obtain as much information as possible about resources for homeless teens available in your community. Contact the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY for 24-hour confidential crisis intervention and resources; If you are and LGBT youth, click on the link below for LGBT youth shelters across the country.
Check out the Safe Place website: http://www.nationalsafeplace.org/homepage.shtml
The best time to get help is NOW. Do not wait. Get information, access resources, talk to people who can give you advice. Be informed, be smart and be safe.