Home › Health Topics › Emotions & Behaviour > 

Running away

run; away; run away; teenager; fighting; arguments; disagreements; parents. ;

Children and young people from families in all walks of life sometimes run away from home for all kinds of reasons. It can happen because they are reacting to something emotionally in the heat of the moment, or when they are testing the limits.

Most young people who run away and are reported to the police are found within 48 hours. While they usually return home within this time, it can be very scary for parents and family.

The content of this topic was developed by Parenting SA - A partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network South Australia.


Why children and young people run away

In adolescence, the influence of friends and the media can be very strong as young people start to form their own ideas and values. As part of testing new things out, young people often believe they can take risks and still be safe.

They’re often torn between wanting complete freedom very quickly and wanting to be cared for as they have been in childhood. Parents are torn between trying to make sure they’re safe and supporting them to gradually become more independent.

Some run away because:

  • There is a disagreement on something they feel strongly about. Running away can often be a 'spur of the moment' act following an argument. They may have very intense feelings about something, and like anyone experiencing strong emotions, may have trouble communicating or negotiating what they want.
  • They might believe that running away will make parents realise they've made a mistake.
  • They are afraid they're about to get into trouble.
  • They think their home has too many rules and limits - they want to find somewhere else to live
  • they don’t like the situation at home with a parent’s new partner, step-parent, defacto or stepbrothers and sisters
  • they’re trying to get away from a difficult situation, e.g. bullying at school
  • they’re depressed, have a drug or mental health problem and need help
  • home isn’t safe or there’s something serious going wrong in their lives, e.g. parents continually arguing, family violence, or they’re being physically or sexually abused or neglected.

For whatever reason, some young people genuinely feel unwanted and unloved at home.

When a child or young person runs away it is often a genuine cry for help. You need to take it seriously.

What you can do

Parents can feel they've lost their influence and control and can feel helpless when their child or young person runs away. Whatever they say in the heat of an argument, you are still very important to them and have influence in many ways. It's very scary for them if they feel you've given up on them.

Hang in there. Children and young people need to know you’re there for them and won’t give up on them.


  • If things are starting to go wrong between you, try work out what the problem is and rebuild the relationship before there is a crisis.
  • Through all the 'ups and downs' make sure she knows you love her. Try to listen to her point of view before giving yours. Talk with her about things other than focusing on problems.
  • Try to find some middle ground where you can each agree on something. Leaving someone feeling they have no choice often leads to a strong reaction.
  • If your child threatens to run away, take it seriously. It does not help to dare them to run, eg 'OKt, go then, you'll be back soon enough' or to forbid it, eg 'No! You're not going'. Listen to how she is feeling, what her problems are and what things could change for the better.
  • You may need some time apart for a while to let things settle down. You could agree for her to stay with a close relative or friend whom you both trust. This will give you both a chance to rethink what's happening and try to do some things differently.
  • Try to look at the situation differently, eg 'What can we do to make everyone in the family feel better?' rather than 'Why is she always making trouble?'
  • Seek some support and advice from your child’s teacher or school counsellor. There may be issues at school or with friends that you don’t know about. They may offer approaches you hadn’t considered.
  • Know your child's friends, who she mostly talks to and where she gets support. When young people run away, friends will often know where they are likely to go.

Respect their personal privacy but remember you’re responsible for their safety. Get to know and understand their use of social media. The Parent Easy Guide on ‘Cyber safety’ has some useful guidelines.

Keep building a positive relationship with your child. Try to work out rules together so your child feels they have choices.

If they run away

  • Try to stay calm. Remember most runaways return by themselves.
  • Find out about how he left and where he may have gone. Was it planned or impulsive? Did he go off with friends, take money, clothes or other possessions? Did he leave a note or say anything to anyone? If he uses Facebook or other social media sites, check for any recent information. 
  • Try to work out whether he is likely to be safe.
  • Find out if he 'running away' from something or 'running towards' something?
  • Contact parents of their friends to find out what they know. Don't worry about doing this as most people know from their own experience that all families have ups and downs.
  • If you find out your child is with friends, let him know that you are worried and that you want to talk. This will show you care. Don't leave messages that are threats.
  • When you make contact with him you may need a third person to help you both talk things through in the beginning. Be prepared to make some changes. If things aren’t sorted out he may run away again.
  • In early discussions you don't have to give in on everything but it is important to discuss ways to make things better for you all.
  • Have an open door attitude to his return.
  • If you can't find him and don't know if he is safe, don't waste time, phone the Police to report him as missing.

Running away can be a sign that something serious is going wrong and you may need to seek professional help.

When they return

  • Don't launch into major discussions or lectures as soon as she walks in the door. Give her time to settle in first and to know that you care. Let her know you have been worried and you need to talk about what has been happening.
  • Allow her to 'save face'. Don't say things like 'I knew you'd have to come crawling back!'
  • Try to see the problem from each other's point of view.
  • Try to work together on ways to make things different. Use each other’s ideas and work out what rules would work for both of you.
  • Talk about the problem, not the person, e.g. you could say ’Wagging school is not going to help you get the things you want’ rather than ‘You’re hopeless and irresponsible.’

If you can’t talk together or you can’t seem to get anywhere, ask someone else to help you sort it out. A school counsellor could be a good place to start.

More information  

Police Report a missing person at your local station or phone 131 444

Crisis Care Phone 13 16 11, 4pm - 9 pm (24 hours on weekends and public holidays) A statewide service to help people when things go wrong and they need urgent help, e.g. with high risk adolescent behaviour or parentchild disputes

Kids Helpline Phone 1800 55 1800 Phone and online counselling for young people aged 5 to 25 years.

Relationships Australia Phone Adelaide 1300 364 277; SA country callers phone 1800 182 325, 9am-5pm, Mon to Fri. Many services are free and your needs are discussed to ensure you access the right service

ReachOut Provides information, tools and support for young people dealing with everyday troubles or tough times

Youth Beyond Blue information and support for young people dealing with anxiety and depression

 Tough Love A self-help program for parents, children and communities struggling with unacceptable adolescent behaviour

Parenting SA For more Parent Easy Guides including ‘Cyber safety’, ‘What about parents’ rights?’ and ‘Living with young people’

Raising Children Network For information about raising children


The content of this topic was developed by Parenting SA - A partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network South Australia.

back to top

The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

Home › Health Topics › Emotions & Behaviour >