Warning Signs

It’s easy to confuse signs of trouble with the usual adolescent turmoil-it’s often hard to tell the difference. But when real problems are in the making, the signs outlined here usually come in clusters.

If you observe these signs:

  • First show your concern by gently reaching out to your child and LISTEN.
  • Seek help from professionals you trust to reopen communication between you and your child.
  • Sleep Changes - fatigue, early morning wakening, insomnia, increased sleeping

Personality Changes - abrupt mood swings, excessive blow-ups triggered by small things, apathy, boredom, irritability, preoccupation with a single thought.

Withdrawal from the Family - growing isolation, increased violation of house rules, avoidance of family gatherings even at meals

School Problems - falling grades, truancy, cutting classes, fights, and disciplinary problems.

Withdrawal from Friends - fallouts with friends, hostility toward former friends, new / older friends, reluctance to introduce parents to new friends.

Over-reaction to family stress - prolonged reaction to loss or stress from death, divorce, illness, loss of job, a move to another city.

Trust Your Feelings - Parents often have “gut” feelings when something is wrong. Trust those feelings and watch for these signs.

Runaways / Thrownaways

It is generally recognized that children who leave home prematurely often do so as a result of intense family conflict or even physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Children may leave to protect themselves or because they are no longer wanted in the home. The term voluntary does not properly apply to such situations.

An estimated 38,600 runaways/thrownaways were at risk of sexual endangerment or exploitation by one or more of the following characteristics or behaviors during the episode: the youth was sexually assaulted, there was an attempted sexual assault of the youth, the youth was in the company of someone known to be sexually abusive, or the youth engaged in sexual activity in exchange for money, drugs, food, or shelter during the episode.

Endangered Runaway Teens and the circumstances

  • Child was physically/sexually abused at home in the year prior to the episode or was afraid of abuse upon return 350,400 21%
  • Child was substance dependent 317,800 19%
  • Child was 13 years old or younger 305,300 18%
  • Child was in the company of a drug abuser 302,100 18%
  • Child was using hard drugs 292,000 17%
  • Child was close to criminal activity 256,900 12%
  • Child engaged in criminal activity 197,400 11%
  • Child was with a violent person 125,400 7%
  • Child had previously attempted suicide 70,500 4%
  • Child was physically assaulted 69,100 4%
  • Child was with a sexually exploitative person 27,300 2%

Statistics on Teenagers/Juveniles as Victims

Abduction/Murder Statistics - While shocking, adults need to realize that these statistics show a very real danger to our children and teenagers. No one, including the police, should immediately assume that if a teenager is missing, they are probably not in danger.

There are estimated to be about 100 cases per year in the US where a child is abducted and murdered. The victims of these cases are “average” children, leading normal lives, and living with normal families, typical low-risk victims.

The vast majority of them are girls (76%), with the average age being slightly over 11 years of age. In 80% of cases, the initial contact between the victim and killer is within 1/4 mile of the victim’s residence. Over half (57%) of these child abduction murders are committed by a killer who is a stranger to the victim.

Family involvement in this type of case is infrequent (9%). However, the relationship between the victim and the killer varies with the gender and age of the victim. The youngest females, 1-5 years old, tend to be killed by friends or acquaintances (64%), while the oldest females, 16-17 years old, tend to be killed by strangers (also 64%).

The relationship between the killer and victim is different for the male victims. The youngest male victims (1-5 years old) are most likely to be killed by strangers (also 64%), as are the teenage males (13-15 years old, 60% and 16-17 years old, 58%).

Learn more about child development and social influences through our Research page.