Talking to your child about the topic of running away from home can be hard as many find it uncomfortable when their parents try to bring up tricky issues or talk about feelings.
Here are a few tips for how to broach the subject:
A good way to bring up tricky issues with teens is to use a book, film, magazine article or soap storyline to casually broach the subject. For example, Ed Sheeran’s song The A Team is all about the reality of living on the streets. And the new teen novel Invisible Girl by Kate Maryon tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who runs away from home.
Pegging your conversation on something fictional makes it easier to talk about the issue in more general terms, rather than seeming intrusive or like an interrogation.
Read up on facts and stats about running away. Young people can sometimes seem so grown-up and worldly wise, it’s easy to forget that they’re still children, and might actually be quite naïve about what life on the streets entails. They might romanticise running away as an opportunity for a new start and a way to get away from the rules and routines of home. They might even assume that there are plenty of safe places they can go. The reality might come as a shock.
Be prepared to talk about other tricky issues as well, such as sex and drug abuse – running away from home can’t be treated as one topic in isolation.
It’s completely understandable to worry about this. But if your child has no intention of running away, having a conversation with them about it is unlikely to suddenly inspire them to do it. More importantly, if they are thinking of running away, talking to them about it gives you the chance to prevent this outcome.
As a young person it can be hard to open up and talk about your feelings and what’s going on in your life – especially to your parents, who you worry might judge or even punish you for it.
‘If you want your teen to open up, then you need to create an atmosphere where they feel they don't need to fear your response to what they have to say,’ says psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott.
‘You need to accept in advance that you may not like what you’re going to hear but it's important to be as receptive as you can be. Maybe run through worst case scenarios in your mind beforehand to prepare your response and get your 'appalled' reaction out of the way in private.’
Be honest with them and let them know that it's not just them who can find it difficult to open up. Thinking and talking about your own experiences when you were growing up could help bring you together.
Many young people who run away from home say that they didn’t feel like they were being heard, or that communication with their parents had broken down. You might not be able to stop your child feeling unhappy, or sort out what’s bothering them. But often, just showing that you’re there for your child and willing to listen is enough.
‘There is no such thing as a 'perfect parent',’ says Dr Scott. ‘Sometimes you will be neither wise nor sensible. You will not always have all the answers, so never pretend you do. They won't believe you, anyway. Being honest with your child about your own fallibility is crucial to having a good relationship with them.’