Why children run away

Youths entering their adolescent years face many transitions. Physical changes occur in conjunction with a striving for personal identity and autonomy. In the runaway, however, attempts to gain independence in a mature, self-sufficient manner fail. Despite the many reasons runaways give for leaving home, runaway youth often return home, only to run away again. This cycle is puzzling, particularly in those instances in which a youth left home because of abuse. Why does this cycle continue? Patterns of Running The number of times a youth  leaves home is important. The runaways studied have left home anywhere from one to 110 times. Four in 10 of them have run away more than three times. The median age for the cycle of running is 14 years old for this group. As many as one fourth of the runaways report first running away before the age of 12; one youth reported a first runaway experience at age four. Most youths are into their teens when they first leave; however, nearly four in 10 youths first leave home in early adolescence (between ages 13 and 15), with approximately the same number leaving home at age 16 or older. Most youths remain away from home between one month and one year. Females tend to return home sooner than males. More adolescent males (three in 10) stay away from home for more than one year. Non surprisingly, it is the older youths who stay away from home the longest. Overall, runaways who report physical or sexual abuse as reasons for running first leave home at an early age. In addition, preteen runaways, both male and female, are more likely to report physical abuse than the older runaways. There is a relationship between the youth's reasons for leaving and the number of times they have run away. Youths who have run away only once or twice are more likely to claim that they wanted a new experience than are adolescents who have run away a number of times. Runaways who have left home more than nine times are more likely to implicate alcohol as a very important reason for running away. These youths are also more likely than first-time runaways and youths who have left home fewer than nine times to claim physical abuse as a very important reason for running away. The runaways' responses suggest that almost all runaways leave home because of family situations they find unbearable. This material is reprinted from "Youth at Risk: Understanding Runaway and Exploited Youth" © 1986 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Arlington, Virginia, USA, and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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