Growing Pains Part 3: What drives children to run away


The theme music starts up as the scene fades into focus. Unlike the normal everyday fashion, 7-year-old Billy is pouting on the porch with a suitcase. His dad walks up and asks what is wrong and Billy says that he wants to run away. After the commercial break, Billy gets up and leaves. A few minutes later, Billy turns around crying and runs back to his dad. They talk about the issue and solve the problem. All is well in 30 minutes and Billy stays home.

The reality and reasons for a child to run away are not so simple that a five minute conversation will solve it. Children or teenagers who run away are running from problems serious enough they would rather be homeless than in their own house.

The destination is not always so pretty

Deciding on where to run away to can seem exciting, as the world is open with possibilities. Yet, most teenagers who run away will have limited money and resources. A study, published in the “Journal of Adolescent Health,” researches effects on those who ran away from home.

Researchers in the study found inciting circumstances such as “Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, along with family difficulties, can all impact children who run away from home.” These factors were discovered to do more damage to the child psyche over time. “Running away from home was strongly associated with suicidal behavior in adulthood, regardless of other childhood adversities.” A teenager running away from home may eventually return home, but not without mental and internal baggage.

Running away from the shame

Therapist and counselor, Andrea Mathews, describes the deciding factor for many teenage runaways as shame. This shame can be brought on from the situation and environment at home including:

  • Poverty
  • Addicted or abusive parents
  • Controlling parenting

There are plenty of other reasons why a teenager will choose to run away, yet, “The problem with all this running, then, is that it always leads back home,” Matthews said. In trying to run away from all the shame, she said teenagers are “Playing a game with the psyche, in which total repression of anything shameful is pushed down into the unconscious.” Teenagers may assume they can run from all of the problems in their past and never deal with it again, keeping anything resembling their old life out of the present.

As Mathews explains, repressing this shame will only aid it, “To rise yet again on another day.” Addressing these situations in counseling and through therapy will be a much better alternative to merely placing a Band-Aid over it.

White River Academy provides treatment and care for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17. The academy follows a boarding school format, offering guidance through a disciplined education program and instilling character values through service projects to promote positive growth. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

Growing pains part 4: Kids day

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