Tis the season for teenagers to runaway. Oh, you didn’t know there was a season? Well actually there are two seasons: spring and fall and fall is definitely in the air. Believe me when I tell you that teenagers all over the world are getting ready to run. There is no scientific study that I am aware of, but I speak from the voice of experience in tracking runaways over the past decade. We learn a lot about them during our conversations as we are in transit to their new therapeutic environment. It seems as the heat of summer passes and the crispness of fall is in the air at-risk adolescents seem to sense it’s time for a change.
The most important thing to do is to tune in with your teenager even though they may resist. I’m talking about more than dinner table conversation. Table talk is good, don’t get me wrong, but more than one teenager has bamboozled their parents by giving them lip service over dinner. I’m talking about knowing what they know: tune in to their world. Time and again I have heard teenagers talk about their own plan. Most of the time, troubled teens tell me, they rock along with their parent’s plan until something happens that catapults them into implementing their own plan. After all, the commonality most trouble teens share is that their parents are so stupid. So, if this is truly how they think, their reality tells them to not follow what their parents want for them.
Every teenager has their own plan of life which may or may not coincide with what their parents want. According to Christy L. Cook, MA LAPC since most stable on-track teenagers don’t runaway, we’re talking mostly about at-risk teens; teens who have been diagnosed with something like ADHD, ADD, or Bipolar Disorder. But do not be fooled into a false sense of Parental Reality says Cook. Many stable teenagers do things that are completely out of the ordinary including run away. So it’s up to you as a parent to be prepared. If your teenager is planning to run away and you do not interrupt their plan, make no mistake they will run.
If parents want to know what their teenager is thinking they have to be a part of their teen’s reality. Parents have to do more than have a casual conversation over dinner a few times a week in order to decipher if their teen is on track or planning to run away. You have to get your head out of the sand and tune in.
Why Tune In?
Tune in because you care. It’s not about anything less than caring; that’s what it all boils down to: I care. Say it again, out loud: I care about what happens to my teenager and I do not want them to run away. So how do you show that you care? Look for clues that will tune you in to your teen’s reality. Ready? Here’s how you do it.
I – Involve Yourself in your Teens Life
C – Check their Creature Comforts regularly
A – Arm Yourself with the truth
R – Respect Your position as a Parent
E – Electronics are an Essential Key
Do you get it now? Good, then say it again: I CARE. Now activate it.
Involve Yourself in your Teens Life. Get involved in their school; know their teachers, their activities and coordinators. If they like to fish, learn to fish; if they are on the tennis team, learn how to play and be at their matches.
Check their Creature Comforts regularly. Search their room, their car, their backpack. Search the rooms of your house that they most frequent. Search your room – look in the closet on the top shelf in the boxes that have been sitting up there for years. Look in the antique desk and the storage cabinet under the bay window. Look in the places that are in the no-zone: your home office; the old storage files or under the seat of your car. Keep an eye on your liquor cabinet. Remember alcohol and teenagers don’t mix. If you have alcohol in your house, keep it locked up. From a simple search of their teen’s room many parents have discovered alcohol, weed and cigarettes that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. But remember to search the nooks and crannies of your home that are no-zones or dead-zones: places that are rarely used. Teenagers can be creative when they are guarding their stash.
Arm Yourself with the Truth. At-risk teens have trouble staying on track. That’s no secret. Just because your teen is not having trouble today doesn’t mean they won’t. Look for your teen’s reality and know what your teen knows.
Respect Your Position as the Parent. You’ve heard it before, it’s not about being friends with your teen; it’s about parenting. Exert your position in a kind but firm way. Lay the boundaries and set guidelines, says Cook. Parents are in the driver’s seat, but to a teen in the absence of boundaries, they will make their own rules.
Electronics are an Essential Key to your teenager’s intimate thoughts, secrets and desires. Set up a schedule to regularly search the history on your teen’s computer; look for their electronic journal. Can’t find one? Then go back to their room or backpack and look for the journal there. Their cell phones have the numbers of their friends; keep a list of names and numbers of their friends – remember to get last names, too. Read text messages on their phone. Can’t read them? Learn to. There are several websites that translate text messages. One of my favorites is www.netlingo.com.
If at all possible it is beneficial to work with parents in your teen’s network. Building your own support group is certainly helpful especially in times of emergency.
Remember if you discover something about your teen that you believe is life threatening dial 911. If you learn something about your teen’s behavior or secret activities that is disconcerting or that you were unprepared for, consult the advice of a Licensed Professional before you confront your teen face to face.
More information about Christy L. Cook, MA LAPC can be found at her website: www.healingthroughseasons.com
Additional Licensed Professionals and Educational Consultants can be found at: www.educationalconsulting.org