teenage runway laws

Almost 9% of teens in the U.S. run away from home each year. Learn about California runaway laws.

Parents that are raising teens know all about the drama that comes with this chapter of childhood. While finding their way toward adulthood, teens often begin to rebel against their parent’s rules. Some may begin to reject the rules and threaten to run away if the parent enforces them.

In some cases, serious problems might prompt a teen to leave the family home. These could involve domestic violence, child abuse, parent drug abuse or mental illness. In these cases, the teen is trying to escape a toxic home environment.

No matter the reason for a teen running away, there are some serious risks involved for the teen. The people they may meet on the street could cause them harm. The teen might be exposed to drugs, sex trafficking, or violence. There are many things for parents to be concerned about if their teen runs away from home.

Top Reasons Teens Run Away

While there are as many reasons why teens run away as there are teens, some common reasons have emerged. Some of the reasons implicate abuse at home, while others are about gaining independence to live life on their own terms. Consider these reasons why teens run away:

  • Fleeing an abusive home. The teen may have been abused or suffered neglect for years. They may have gotten old enough they felt they could make it on their own. Abuse may have involved physical or sexual abuse, verbal abuse, or emotional abuse.
  • Conflicts with parents. The teen wishes to live their life without rules or consequences for breaking a parent’s rules. Teen romance issues are common in this category, as the teen refuses to stop seeing their boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Substance use. The teen might be using drugs or alcohol and want to feel free to continue substance abuse.
  • Gender identity. A teen that is struggling with gender issues may attempt to come out to parents, only to be rejected. They may leave the home as a result.
  • Homelessness. The family might be homeless or facing harsh economic times, so the teen might strike out on his or her own.
  • Crime. A teen might have committed a crime, which the parent became aware of, and the teen flees to avoid consequences.
  • Quits school. A teen who wishes to quit school and faces parent pushback may run away from home to avoid school.

It is unwise to assume that the teen that runs away is fleeing an abusive parent. While this does happen, and going home isn’t an option, this is not the most common cause. Many teens that leave home do so to avoid restrictions on their freedoms imposed by well meaning parents.

Signs Parents Should Be Concerned About

There are often warning signs that a teen is thinking about running away. Consider these signs:

  • The teen threatens to run away if the parent insists he or she abides by the house rules.
  • The teen has become rebellious and rejects any rules at home or school.
  • The teen is having mood swings or showing signs of a mental health issue.
  • The teen avoids social events and isolates in his or her room.
  • The teen often sneaks out during the night.
  • The teen becomes angry and lashes out when told to mind the rules or do housework or homework.
  • The teen is having problems at school; grades slipping, social problems.
  • The teen is engaging in sex at an early age and may become pregnant.
  • The teen spends a lot of time online chatting with strangers, even meeting up with them.
  • The teen is using drugs or alcohol, engaging in impulsive behaviors.
  • The teen is struggling with the parents’ divorce or a move.

CA Runaway Laws

There is no law that states a person under age eighteen running away from home is committing a crime. Minors who run away from home can be detained by police and returned to a legal guardian.

In California, there is no legal consequence for a minor running away. There is, however, very little a minor can do if caught by the police to not be returned home. Many states, like CA, have adopted the Interstate Compact on Juveniles (ICJ). In these states police are required by law to return children to a parent, a guardian or the court. Also, any minor who constantly runs away may become a ward of the court, according to section 601 of the ICJ.

Section 625.1 of the ICJ states that any minor in CA can be detained by a police officer without a warrant. This pertains to minors that appear to be in poor health, inebriated, or is in a violation of curfew. If a minor runs away in California and is detained by a police officer, the minor has four legal options. The minor can be returned home, go live with a legal guardian, apply for emancipation, or become court dependent. In some states, though, runaways may receive a criminal charge.

When a teen runs away, the parent should call the police right away and have the teen’s name placed in the missing persons database. There may be a way to locate the teen via the Find My Phone tracker app.

Getting Help for Your Teen

If the teen is returned home to your care, there is a chance to turn the page and begin over on better footing. It could be that the teen needs some counseling, some tutoring at school, or for the family to practice better communicating.

Some teens, however, will need more tailored mental health treatment. They may be serial runaways and need to be treated for a mental health disorder. An inpatient program for teens offers a safe place for the teen to work through their concerns.

BNI Treatment Centers Teen Residential Mental Health Treatment

BNI Treatment Center is a mental health center that works with youth aged 12-17. When a teen decides to run away there are likely some larger issues going on. When the teen runs away often, that is cause for deep concern. Teens that run away are placing themselves at risk for many adverse effects, both present and future.

Life skills can help teens better manage their emotions and stress. CBT helps guide the teen toward making better choices when they feel angry or upset, instead of running away. At BNI Treatment our program uses a blend of treatment models to focus on the whole child. For any questions about our program, please contact us today at (888) 522-1504.

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