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    Overnight stay without permission - would you call the police?

    March 2002

    This is both a question on teen runaways. Does anyone know what classifies as a runaway? Does merely going away without permission to a friend's house without telling of your destination classify as such? Would most parents call the police if this happened? How have other parents handled teen anger that manifests itself in this manner? Stella

    I would like to respond to the question about calling the Police for a child who doesn't come home. We had this situation last year when our 16 year old daughter was going through a particularly rebellious phase and was mixed up with some really bad kids and we found out later drugs were involved. The first time she didn't come home on time and we had no idea where she was we panicked and called the police. They came and wrote up a long report took a description and said that if they saw her they would bring her home. She came home the next day with a completely nonchalant attitude. The police advised us to report her curfew violations and whereabouts unknowns each time. That way a paper trail of her behavior was being created and then by the time she was arrested (first for shoplifting and later drug possession) it was clear to the juvenile court that this behavior had been building up and that the arrests were not isolated incidents. We were then able to get her the help that she needed with the backing of the court. It was very hard to do this to our child but it also got her attention where nothing else we had tried did, and a year later she now obeys us, keeps her curfews, attends school again and works.
    If my teen daughter walks out during the day , as she is going out the door, I say loud and clear when I expect her back. Usually she is back by that time.

    Here is my experience with her leaving after dark. The first time: At 15 1/2 she went out the door in anger one evening after dark. I was an emotional wreck. I called the police. When they (eventually) came, I gave them the phone number at the home of a totally inappropriate boyfriend where I thought she might be. They traced the phone number and went to the guy's house to look for her there. They did not find her, but the fact the police had gone to his house helped end the negative relationship shortly thereafter. So, calling the police turned out to have been very helpful, even though they did not find her for me that evening. She came home on her own within a couple of hours . I was never able to find out just where she had been. This was extremely upsetting, especially since we do not live in the safest neighborhood .

    The second time ( she had turned 16) : I also called the police. She was back before they even came over to take the report (she had tried to go to a neighbor's house and when they were not home,apparently hid out in the backyard of our house). Maybe because I had seen her head for the neighbor's house (and this seemed like a reasonably good decision for her to make under the circumstances) I became much less upset. I went on about my evening. When she returned, looking a bit sheepish, she saw that she had been out in the cold and I had been in where it was warm having a good dinner and playing chess with a friend. It hasn't happened again since and I doubt that it will ( a new therapist may have something to do with this - she takes no nonsense and I am trying to learn to do the same).

    Technically, I think the police do not report children as runaways unless they have been missing for over a day (perhaps even two). But I believe parents should report it to the police if a child walks out the door , especially after dark. I have always been advised by therapists and other parents to do this. First it makes one feel less helpless. Second It shows the child one is willing to take action, registers the limits officially and implies backup is out there somewhere ( at least in principle). In the worst case, i.e. if things continue to escalate, it shows that one has tried one's best to cope with the situation and done what was required.

    I hope this is helpful. for me the first time this happened I just wanted to know other people (children and parents) had survived it.


    No, I would not call the police, but if I felt comfortable enough I'd call the parents and let them know their child was safe. I have friends who have done that for me. Marianne
    If I had to do it all over again I would NEVER involve the police. The system isn't there to help you through the long haul! You will be paying for juvenile hall, miss work for court, child misses A LOT of school, and the parol officer assigned are useless. What did work was: involving family, church, and some teachers. There are many programs for parents managing teen anger but I found nothing for teens managing their own anger. Private counseling is a joke, expensive, and UCB benefits stink!
    If you are a member of Kaiser Permanente, I recommend that you contact your facility's Family Psychiatry Department regarding their current schedule of workshops called The Parent Project. Although you may need and want immediate assistance with your questions about running away by teens, this workshop will provide you will far more comprehensive long term help dealing with destructive behavior by teens (drugs, alcohol, gangs/bad friends, school failure, etc.).

    I attended Oakland's first session (Richmond and I believe Walnut Creek also do workshops). It has truly helped me to influence my teen's decisions. Our teen children may indeed control themselves but we as parents have many tools and skills which once learned can help us influence the decisions they make. No easy answers-- but successful skills can be learned by parents who are willing to work at it.

    And yes, I would call the police -- and I have called the police for a problem with a different destructive behavior!!

    Please sign me: Anonymous Parent of Freshman at Berkeley High School

    By accident, the first (and only) time my son threatened to run away, at age 14, I managed to come up with something that seemed to work. I said, I don't want you to leave home. We can work this out. You have to understand that your safety is first. If you are not home by one hour after dark, I WILL call the police. He blustered about it some more, but I didn't argue. I just continued to say, Your safety comes first.

    Afterwards, I called a cool friend and asked if he could stay with her if things got unmanageable. But it never got to that point. He strolled in before dark, and the issue never came up again. I now think that being very clear that I did not want him to leave and that I would take drastic steps were important things for him to hear. Please sign me Anonymous.