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What to Do After Your Teen Runs Away

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What to Do After Your Teen Runs Away

Aug 12, 2022

If your teen has run away from home, the first priority is finding them and ensuring they’re safe. But what should you do after they safely return home? Amanda McNab, MSW, LCSW, suggests the steps parents should take to understand why your teenager ran away in the first place—and start to rebuild the relationship in a healthy way to prevent future runaways.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: It's a situation that no parent ever wants to deal with, but their teen has run away. Once you have located your teen and got them back home, what do you do next? How can you make sure to resolve whatever is going on and why they ran away in the first place?

To help us understand the situation and what steps to take next, we're joined by Amanda McNabb. She is the quality improvement and training manager at the Community Crisis Intervention and Support Services with Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Amanda, it is a situation that really I think most parents fear sometimes. And when it happens, what do you tell parents, and what is the first step that they should do when they get their kid back?

Amanda: Usually, when a parent is dealing with a situation in which a teenager has run away, one of the things that we really suggest is having another support system with them. So maybe having a mediator, a family friend, somebody who can come in and help keep the emotions that are going on at a minimum so that the conversation can happen about why.

A lot of families will then just say, "Don't do it again. This isn't good. Now you're going to be in trouble." And they don't really focus on what was the reason behind the idea of running away for that teenager.

Interviewer: What are some of the common reasons that they would run away? I mean, I know that every family is different, but with all the amount of people that you interact with, there have got to be some common threads.

Amanda: Absolutely. And those common threads can run from just a teenager who doesn't like the rules in the house and wants to have some extra freedom or things like that. It may be that they're dealing with a lot of pressures and feel like between school and home and friends and everything else that's going on, they just can't handle it and need to get out of the situation.

There may be some concerns about gender identity or feeling accepted for who they are. And that may be another reason that a teenager might leave the home or leave the situation.

The teenager also could be dealing with mental health, depression, anxiety, maybe thoughts about suicide. And the idea of running away is the first step towards "What do I do with my mental health itself?"

Interviewer: So Step 1, get a mediator, get someone in between, calm down some of the, I'm sure, very high-intensity emotions that are happening in that situation. What are some strategies and next steps that we can share with parents who are trying to help identify what is going on with their teen or with their home situation and where can they go next?

Amanda: I think in the beginning, as you said, being able to calm down and really bring those emotions back down to where everybody can actually communicate with one another.

When we're in a high emotional situation, we're not often listening to the other person. We're not having a true conversation. We're always thinking about, "How am I going to respond?" Or with teenagers, it's, "Okay, how am I going to hold this person to consequences for their actions and their behavior?" And instead, we really want to focus more on, "Okay, what is going on in this situation? How can I try to see their perspective?"

With teenagers, and really adults, we each have our own perspective on the situation, which doesn't always match up with somebody else. So we want to focus in on really being able to use those reflective listening skills and those active listening skills to communicate and say, "Tell me more about what's been going on," so that we can come to a positive conclusion and hopefully make things better.

Sometimes with that piece, we really will say to families and parents, "Call the crisis line." We are here not just for suicide or major mental health concerns. We are here for crisis.

And when a family has a teenager who's run away, I define that as a crisis. That is something that is creating a lot of discord and emotional upheaval for a family. And so we're here to try to walk you through those next steps or be able to intervene and say, "Maybe we need to do a mental health assessment on the individuals involved to make sure that everybody is in a safe place to have those conversations."

Interviewer: So with a service like the crisis line with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, for some people, this might be the first time they are reaching out to a service like this. What can they expect when they call that phone number?

Amanda: When they call, usually, you will get ahold of one of our certified crisis workers who will then just ask, "How can I help you today? What is going on that made you call in?"

And once we've started to define what's happening, what's the situation, what is the actual need in the moment, and sometimes that need is just, "I need to vent. I need to talk about what's going on," or it could be, "I have questions about what resources are available to me," then we can start to collaborate together with the caller and say, "Okay, here's what may be available. Here's what may be an option."

And it doesn't always have to be the parent. It can also be the teenager. The teenager is always welcome to give us a call or use our SafeUT app or anything like that to reach out to one of our crisis workers and say, "I'm struggling with what's going on. I need help." And hopefully, they get a warm reception and are able to feel comfortable talking about some of those issues that maybe they haven't been able to bring up with other people before.

Interviewer: Now, who is the crisis line for and does it cost anything?

Amanda: The crisis line is for anybody and everybody. It is free to the consumer. We are here 24/7. Same with our SafeUT app, which is just a texting way of getting hold of the crisis workers. And it really is for parents, teenagers, anybody who's seeking that extra help.

Interviewer: So for a parent who is dealing with a runaway and it's time to figure out what's going on and heal together, what is the number to get in contact with the crisis line?

Amanda: Parents can reach us at 1-800-273-TALK, or the national number at 988.

Interviewer: Just 988?

Amanda: That's all it is.