What causes teenagers to run away from their homes?

From a psychological perspective, the main task for an adolescent to achieve is finding themselves and making sense of their own adult presence in this world, that’s why they try to dress differently and love to explore new things. Erick Erickson (1902-1994) called this stage of adolescence Identity versus role confusion; meaning at this age the person will be in constant search of their own unique identity and when they fail to do so or it clashes with parents’ values and beliefs, role confusion sets in and may even lead to an identity crisis.

So, if we want to sum it up, adolescents’ biggest reason to run away from home, is usually feeling unaccepted, misunderstood or even consistently blamed for things. Other reasons are drugs and peer pressure where running away is romanticized by friends and made to look appealing. Another very important reason is anxiety or fear of the consequences of a mistake, that’s why parents should never be harsh in communicating their response to mistakes, consequences should be given in an accepting kind of way to indicate that we all make mistakes but it’s our responsibility to take on the consequences and learn from them.


How can parents spot stress in their child?

Signs of stress are usually clear to parents, but they are usually normalized and blamed on the teenage phase. For example, when it’s clear the child is not sleeping well or sleeps too much, we just say that’s how teenagers are. The most two significant signs are changes in eating or sleeping habits. Also, any change of behavior like becoming extra silent or shut in or becoming explosively angry. Parents should also check on their teenagers in bed and see if they have been crying.


How often should a teen speak to his or her school counsellor? 

A general awareness to the role of the counselor at the school should be elaborately explained to the high school students. It shouldn’t be labelled as a space where troubled students are sent, on the contrary it should be normalized and explained as a wellbeing necessity.

There should be a regular check in for high school students especially around exam times, but that would become challenging considering the counselor: student ratio. Ideally it would be once or twice a term check in for students who are having no issues and on a weekly basis for students who are struggling for any reason.


How do children usually act out when they are scared/ stressed out? 

Students’ reactions to stress depend on their personality and also on the surrounding environment. So, an easily anxious child by nature, could get over scared from an unserious threat by the parents. While an emotionally strong child might be totally unaffected by the same exact threat. Children may become anxious or aggressive as a reaction to the same trigger, again according to their personality and how they are raised.


How can teachers communicate with difficult children?

After the proper studying of the behavior and why the child is being difficult or choosing to have interfering behaviors In my opinion, the most two important factors for a teacher to ensure are:

 1-     Looking compassionate while giving a consequence, so the child is still given the consequence for the interfering behavior but it is clearly communicated by the teacher that she didn’t want to give this consequence but it was the Childs’ choice, by choosing to do the mistake, the child is choosing to get the consequence.

2-     Having some occasional 1:1 positive time together where the child feels accepted and supported.


How can parents communicate with teens who are undergoing exam-related stress?

It is very important that parents review what they say and do to try to motivate their child to achieve high grades. Firstly, to properly identify their Childs’ capabilities; a lot of parents just can’t accept that their child is not an academic high achiever and they keep pushing in this direction which causes them to miss their Childs’ real talent and creative abilities as well as negatively affect their self-esteem.

Secondly, when the child has evident exam anxiety like throwing up or being unable to answer exam questions out of fear, the first thing parents should do is acknowledge the feeling and simply support the child in figuring out and problem-solving step by step. So, a response like “tell me more about what’s going on with you, what do you think you can do about this? How can I support you? What do you need? “

If parents are not pressuring the child or they have removed the pressure and the child is still anxious, they need to get external support from a counselor who will work on the Childs cognitive behavior and automatic thoughts that are causing the anxiety


A lot of teens now are negatively responding to parents who raise their voice or yell at them. What is the right way for parents to discipline their kids?

It is a very normal response for a child to react negatively to yelling or any kind of emotional aggression from parents. These are little human beings who are living with older ones, if they feel disrespected, unaccepted or humiliated in any way, a negative outcome will emerge and if it doesn’t emerge, it’s even more serious as it will set inside the Childs being and cause him a problem that he/she may suffer from later in life and not even understand why.

So, the best guideline for parents in my opinion, is to respect the child, in addition to the unconditional love and acceptance and I see this achieved through the authoritative approach to parenting, where there are rules and consequences, but love and acceptance are clearly and regularly communicated.


If a school counsellor realizes that the child is displaying symptoms of unhappiness and depression, what is the procedure the school follows to communicate with the parents? What's next for the child?

The school counselor can detect signs of unhappiness and depression and often, the class teacher is the one who refers the child to the counselor. First a meeting with the child is necessary to exclude any family related safeguarding issues, then the parents are asked in for a meeting with the counselor to review and support with teenage parenting tips and strategies.

If the depression or anxiety turn to be at a very high level and are more continuous than transient, then it’s always safer to refer to an external therapist to ensure regular weekly sessions and maybe family therapy and support.

Depression and anxiety in teenagers can become really serious and lead to drastic actions, so it’s always advisable that the school counselor carefully documents each procedure and step. Counselors also need to adequately explain to parents the gravity of the symptoms and what they may lead to, to make sure the parents take it seriously and not to think the child is acting out or manipulating them. Any threat of self-harm has to be taken seriously every time.


By Dr. Mona Youssri

Licensed Family Counselor at DHCC

Student Counselor at WSO