There are about two million cases of teenage runaways in America each year. The majority of them are under the age of 18. To put it in more relatable terms, the annual number of teenage runaways is equivalent to the number of people in Houston, Texas. On average, 1/3 of them will be sexually abused; another third will attempt suicide; about 1/10 are thought to be pregnant.
That’s why it’s imperative that every parent know the Dos and Don’ts of how to find a runaway. Time is of the essence in every case, and the following steps can help you save your child from becoming a statistic.
DO: Call the police. Immediately. Police are trained specifically in how to find a runaway, so alerting them immediately means they can starting looking as soon as possible.
DO: File a Missing Persons report, and ask your local law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert if possible. Contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, as well as any local community services that offer runaway hotlines.
DO: Make color copies of as many up-to-date photos of your child as you can. Distribute those photos in local hangouts, schools, restaurants and shopping plazas.
DO: Ask your child’s friends, schoolmates and teachers if they’ve seen your missing son/daughter. A number of teenage runaways will “let slip” valuable information about their whereabouts, or about their general plans for leaving.
DO: Activate the tracking devices for cell phones – yours and theirs. It may give the police a lead about your child has gone, and will help them keep in touch with you in case any evidence is uncovered. Ask other family members to install tracking devices for their cell phones, too, just in case your missing child makes contact.
DON’T: Touch your computer. At all. There could be valuable information stored in emails, instant messages and social media posts.
DON’T: Cancel any bank accounts or credit cards your child can access. Teenage runaways may use them for gas money or to make purchases, which can help law enforcement officials locate your child more quickly.
DON’T: List your home telephone number on “Missing” posters. Direct all inquiries and tips to your local police station.
DON’T: Turn off your child’s cell phone. Even if you haven’t activated any of the phone provider’s tracking devices for their cell phones, the cops may be able to get a location of your child by monitoring the number.
DON’T: Expect everything to be the same when your child returns. Remember that your child is frightened and angry, too. Seeking help from a counselor who specializes in teenagers and parenting is a good way to make sure everyone involved has a chance to air out their feelings.
DON’T: Be afraid to hire a private investigator. PIs work with the police all the time; their ultimate goal is to help you and your children reunite. When it comes finding teenage runaways, every little bit can help.
Professionals Know Best How to Find a Runaway Teen
It’s impossible to truly understand how a parent feels when a child runs away, but it’s safe to assume that you’ll be scared, angry, confused and/or depressed. You may also feel as though you’re better equipped to conduct a search than a private investigator or the local cops. After all – they’re “strangers,” right? Who knows your child better than you?
But it’s important to be realistic. A professional investigator will know how to find a runaway far more quickly and efficiently than you will. PIs have been trained to find missing persons, and they’re able to survey the situation in a much more objective manner. They may have access to police records that you won’t have, and can reach out to a vast professional network for help.
Teenagers and Parenting: How to Prevent Your Child from Running Away
Ideally you’ll never need any of the information you just read, because your child won’t leave home without telling you first. But most teenage runaways aren’t looking for attention: they’re looking for a way out of a bad situation. If you think your child might be planning to run it’s time to sit down and hear him/her out. Ask your child if s/he’s happy – and be open-minded about the response. Listen to what s/he says, and ask questions. You may not like what you hear, but becoming accusatory (“How could you hurt me like that?”) or placing blame (“It’s your fault I yell all the time: you never help me around the house!”) will escalate a bad situation quickly.
Make it a point to learn the names of your kids’ friends, teachers and employers/fellow employees. Keep a record of their license plate numbers and the types of cars they drive. Don’t be afraid to ask for the names of your children’s friends’ parents, either. Your teen may gripe a bit about you being “nosey,” but information like that makes it easier for you to stay up-to-date on your kids’ lives. In the end, it’s better to know what your child is up to than have to learn how to find a runaway teen.