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It is good to talk to stop runaways; One child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK. But just listening to children can help, writes LISA SALMON.


MOST parents like to think they can talk to their children. But it's all too easy to avoid the really tough conversations. And unhappy children, who bottle up all their problems, can sometimes become children who run away.

According to the charity Railway Children, 100,000 children under 16 run away from home every year - that's one child every five minutes. Those who experience family problems, including divorce, death, and relationship changes, are three times more likely to run away - and more than a quarter of children (27%) admit to keeping problems and worries to themselves because they're too scared to talk to their parents.

A study of 500 parents and 500 11 to 16-year-olds by Railway Children, which supports vulnerable young people alone and at risk on Britain's streets, found that while most parents (95%) believe they're open to tackling difficult subjects, many aren't broaching topics such as family changes, divorce or death with their children.

A quarter of parents (24%) admitted they hadn't talked about family changes with their children, while one in five (22%) hadn't discussed difficult subjects like death or suicide. Nearly a third (31%) of parents said they'd only start a difficult conversation with their child when the issue arises.

Andy McCullough, Railway Children's head of UK policy and public affairs says: "Children run away for a variety of reasons, such as problems experienced at school, relationship issues or family breakdown.

"For any parent, discovering that your child has run away from home is the worst possible nightmare. But talking to your child and having open conversations, regardless of how awkward they might be, may be all it takes to prevent them from feeling desperate and hopeless enough to consider running away."

The majority of runaways are aged between 13 and 14, although some are as young as eight and nine years old. More girls run away, but boys tend to run away for longer.

The survey found 40% of children reported an overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation when they don't have anyone to talk to (45% for girls, 36% for boys).

The issues 11 to 16-year-olds find most difficult to talk about include sex (36%), romantic relationships (30%) and body image (19%), with a quarter saying their parents have never tried to bring up these issues. As a result, one in five (21%) children turn to the internet for answers.

Family conflict, often linked to divorce, stepfamilies and bereavement, is the reason most children run away from home.

"Often children will say that no one was listening to them, and no one seemed to care," says Andy. "If you don't create opportunities for them to speak, then children will internalise problems, take them away and try to make sense of them, and often get it wrong."

He says parents need to create an atmosphere where children are happy to ask questions and engage in difficult conversations.

Psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott adds: "Every parent will know that having awkward conversations is a necessary part of parenting. But establishing an open and honest pattern of communication between parents and children from a young age is incredibly important.

"For parents, maintaining this for the future when their children grow older and face different, and more difficult, challenges, lets them know they always have someone to confide in."

Andy suggests test-running difficult conversations with other parents, and asking them what they talk to their children about.

"Often there's a pressure to be the expert in all things, and you can't be. But you can find the information you need from elsewhere," he advises.

If tough issues aren't tackled and a child does run away from home, Andy warns: "The consequences can be devastating, with children never feeling they can return home, and that they're disengaged from everything."

He points out that if children run away, they rarely sleep on the streets but will often 'sofa surf' at friends' houses until they outstay their welcome.

"By the time people have made a cup of tea and read this article, another child in Britain will have run away," says Andy.

"There should be no conversation that's too uncomfortable to have with your child, and discussing the tough stuff could really make a difference and help stop them running away."

Railway Children and Aviva are asking parents to upload their most awkward parenting conversation at to help raise awareness of the importance of an honest, open dialogue. For every conversation included, Aviva will donate PS2 to Railway Children.


More girls run away than boys but boys tend to stay away longer

Some 100,000 children under 16 run away from home every year. Right, psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott says establishing an open and honest pattern of communication between parents and children is incredibly important
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 24, 2014
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