DEAR ABBY: The holiday season is finally over -- and a lot of people are breathing a collective sigh of relief. The pressure of trying to maintain a greeting-card kind of family facade is overwhelming for families already experiencing problems. Parents aren't going to stop fighting because it's suddenly the time for peace and love. And Johnny isn't going to stop acting out, no matter how much everyone wishes differently.
Family dynamics is the reason cited by nearly 43 percent of kids who have run away -- or are thinking about running away from home.
Parents should be especially alert to changes in their child's behavior, including increased stress, withdrawal or overwhelming unhappiness. These are warning signs of a child in crisis, one who may run away to avoid stressful situations. Open communication with children is vital to keep them from turning elsewhere. Taking the time to listen now may prevent a serious problem later.
The National Runaway Switchboard is the federally designated communication system for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth. It is confidential, volunteer-based and not-for-profit.
Please, Abby, encourage young people who are considering running away, and those who already have, as well as parents with children in crisis to call our hotline, (800) 621-4000, before an act of desperation is committed. -- CATHLEEN CAROLAN, NATIONAL RUNAWAY SWITCHBOARD
DEAR CATHLEEN: Thank you for a timely and important letter. The streets of major cities are often the only "home" young runaways are able to find. Once on the streets, they are at risk for physical violence, disease and exploitation. They become victims of crime or even resort to crime themselves in order to survive.
Since 1971, the National Runaway Switchboard has been a valuable tool for runaway youth, teens in crisis and concerned friends and family members. It provides confidential crisis intervention and referral services on a 24-hour hotline. It also offers message relay between runaways and parents or legal guardians, education and outreach services, and administers the Home Free program in partnership with Greyhound Lines Inc. (All services are free.)
The National Runaway Switchboard publishes the Parent Information Guide, which helps parents identify signs that their child may be contemplating running away from home, what to do if a child runs away, and how to deal with the child's return. The guide is also free to anyone who contacts the hotline.