You make your way through the door, grocery bags in hand, as you call out that some assistance would be nice. By the time you’re finished, you begin to look for your thankless teenager, probably playing video games or engrossed in some new music. But the house is empty.

After a few phone calls and text messages go unanswered, you begin to feel annoyed. You wonder why teenagers have so much trouble following simple instructions, why they can’t leave notes or stay put for a moment. But when minutes turn into hours and the sun begins to set, that annoyance turns into worry. Panic. Did she make good on that threat? Did she mean what she said? Did your teenager actually run away?

The first thing to do in this situation is to contact your spouse or other close relative. He or she could be in contact with your child. If that fails, try checking in with the school, your neighbors, coaches or youth pastors. Teenagers running away for the first time will typically seek shelter with trusted community members. However, if no one has seen or heard from your teen, do not hesitate or waste time panicking – take action.

Check your child’s room. Are there signs that he/she fled? If a backpack, computer, clothes or phone/computer chargers are missing, that could be the case. When signs start pointing to “yes,” the first thing you should do is call the police. You or your child won’t be in trouble if it’s all a misunderstanding, and acting quickly could make all the difference in the world. You should especially ask that the officer to enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File.

The next thing you can do is check your phone bill. This could point to when and to whom your teen made his/her most recent calls. Calls those numbers, and enlist the help of your child’s friends and other parents to help search.

Teenagers don’t flee out of the blue; they’ll leave hints and clues leading up to the event. Try to remember what your child said recently and attempt to put yourself in his/her shoes. Knowing why they ran is important, but discovering where they went is the immediate priority.

Remember, running away is more common than you think. It doesn’t mean you’re an awful parent, and it doesn’t mean your teen hates you. It just means he or she decided to run from problems instead of facing them. Once your teen returns, take a moment to be thankful for what you have and let your emotions settle before listening to why your teen ran away. Sharing your feelings after such an event and trying to understand each other can help make sure neither of you has to face that fear again.

1 John 4:18 (New Revised Standard Version):  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

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