Summer is Peak Season for Teen Runaways

Jun 17, 2018

Roughly 2.8 million kids run away in the U.S. each year, with the main ages at risk being from ten to fourteen years old. With an abundance of free time during the Summer months and unlimited information at their fingertips via their smartphones, kids now also have more resources at their disposal than ever before.

While running away may seem like something your child would never do, the reality is that an astounding number of children do it every year. According to the National Runaway Safeline, children run away because:

  • 47% of runaway youth report conflict between them and a parent/guardian in the home.
  • Over 50% of youth in shelters or on the streets reported that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care.
  • 80% of runaway & homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abused.
  • 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home.
  • 43% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.
  • Over 70% of runaway youth have been considered to be endangered.
  • 7%of youth in runaway & homeless youth shelters and 14% of youth on the street had traded sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs.
  • 32% of runaway & homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Why is Summertime the Peak Season?

For one, Summer is the ideal season for runaways because the weather is more agreeable and school is out of session. However, there are other factors that make the warmer months ideal for ditching their home lives and striking out prematurely on their own.

Lack of Supervision

For latch-key kids especially, this is an issue. Many preteen and teen kids are old enough to be left alone unsupervised either out of trust or because of the soaring cost of childcare. Summer camps can be expensive and many young teens are babysitters themselves during their summer vacation.

Extra Free Time

Bored kids can be troublesome. Combine that with a lack of school year structure and this can be a perfect storm of bad decisions. More importantly, they may look for additional thrills to keep their summer boredom at bay.

Digital Resources

Kids are constantly connected and there is a wealth of information available in just a couple clicks. They can look up travel arrangements, chat with strangers across the country and find tips for budgeting their trip.

The Role Technology Plays

Technology is on both sides of this issue – on the one hand, fueling the possibility of connecting with pedophiles, sexual extortionists, and manipulators. However, technology is also useful in tracking down missing kids by tailing the digital footprints of runaways and kidnapped kids.

Many law enforcement agencies use GPS to recreate last known whereabouts for missing children and can also find chat logs and social media information of any persons of interest the runaway child may have contact with. In the case of Hailey Burns, a 16-year-old girl from Georgia who ran away with a 31-year-old man she met on the internet, her parents had previously limited their daughter’s online activity because she had previously been talking to strangers online.

David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire states, “When relationships deteriorate with kids . . . dangers really come into play,” he said. “Abductions are rare, but if such cases do come up, technology can be helpful. For instance, cellphones can be used to help locate children.”

Nancy McBride, the executive director of Florida Outreach at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says, “The NCMEC works with law enforcement to harness the power of social media tools such as Twitter to get more eyes looking out for missing persons.”

What Can Parents Do?

Understanding your child’s online activity is crucial – and just because they use technology, doesn’t automatically mean they’re at risk for running away from home. However, learning their daily habits can give you some insight into any possible concerns that may arise, like chatting with strangers, sharing personal information (intentionally or accidentally) or being a victim of cyberbullying.

The best thing you can do is talk with your children about your concerns and let them know you’re able to have a two-way conversation. “When the child's relationship with their parents isn’t strong, their communication breaks down and that makes the child vulnerable to online predators,” McBride said.

The NCMEC has Summer Safety Tips to help you identify where your child may be at risk and steps you can take as a family to prevent them.

Tips for Parents

  • Know their daily habits
  • Know their friends
  • Check in with them
  • Have them check in with you
  • Make sure they are supervised when outside and away from home
  • Take color photographs every 6 months
  • Keep a description of your child
  • Keep copies of your child’s fingerprints
  • Consider having a DNA sample taken from your child
  • Know where your child’s medical records are located
  • Keep online computers in a supervised area of the home
  • Consider installing filtering and/or monitoring software
  • Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use
  • Research the sites that your child uses or wants to use for privacy settings they allow

Parental control software, like Net Nanny, can not only help you filter out unwanted content, but can also keep your children online activity safe by monitoring their activity.