A very trying and tense situation is created when a teenager decides to run away from home. Often there has been conflict over matters such as curfew or choice of friends, and it looks as though the teen has left because he or she does not want to live by the family rules. This is generally not the whole reason. It is more likely because there has been a communication breakdown, and the teen does not feel like an important part of the family. The message heard may be that in order to be accepted you have to be just like us.
Teens are at a stage in life where one of the growth imperatives is to be different from the parents. It is quite natural for the peers to have more influence than the family. The adolescent wants to identify with other adolescents, not with middle-aged people. A successful transition through this stage requires that both the adolescent and the adults make an effort to bridge the gap. Both must be willing to be a little flexible. If parents present a totally rigid stance, there is no reason for the child to communicate. If the child feels rejected or unacceptable to the parents, there is little motivation to co-operate.
Naturally we would like the adolescent to take a mature and responsible approach to differences, but often they are simply neither mature nor responsible. We must find ways to communicate our love and patience while at the same time stressing the need to reach an understanding.
Frustration may cause parents to respond to children in critical or demeaning ways. No matter how tough adolescents may appear on the outside, inside they are sensitive and easily hurt. They have a strong sense of justice, and if they are treated rudely, they will not easily forgive or forget. Parents are also sensitive and easily hurt by disrespect or rejection from their children. It is easy for a downward spiral to begin, and it takes on a life of its own.
A child’s running away signals a final breakdown in a system that was not working. Sometimes the adolescent is pushing boundaries that are totally reasonable, and may have to assess the high cost of rejecting home and family. Other times, the situation in the home is unreasonable, demeaning or even abusive. The running away behavior may be the only option to end a destructive cycle. In either case, if there is no change in the system, the pattern will repeat over and over resulting in more hurt on all sides.
Once a child has run, everyone feels vulnerable, and the situation seems fragile and unstable, even upon his or her return. Running away is a serious step, and once this has occurred, intervention is required. Help or referrals are available through school counsellors, and this is a good place to start as academic performance is likely affected. Family counselling can be an important process to get through the crisis, and to begin building healthy patterns within the family.
Running away is a signal that help is needed, but is not a solution. Running away means there is a lot of hurt. Home is important: a loving home will heal the hurt. It is never too late to begin healing, or to welcome someone home.
Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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