Toronto street youth worker Tim Huff refuses to generalize about the homeless teens he has been reaching out to for the last 20 years. But he will tell you there is one absolute truth that applies to all of them. Each has their own unique story, says Huff, director of Light Patrol, an outreach agency operated by Youth Unlimited.
That may sound simplistic, but it's important to remember. Because when kids run away, both they and their families are often subject to fierce judgments from outsiders about what has gone wrong: that the kids are "bad;" that they are drug-addled or lazy or ungrateful; or their parents are neglectful, abusive or don't care about them.
A story in the most recent Health section of the Star looks at the phenomenon of kids who take off and the many reasons for it, from mental illness to problems at school. And at the anguish of one bewildered parent desperately trying to find the troubled daughter she loves.
But there's one thing I wish it had included that I'll tell you about now - information about a support group for parents of acting-out teens. The Association of Parent Support Groups in Ontario is a network of parents who help each other develop strategies for dealing with disruptive adolescents. The 15 chapters across the province offer regular meetings, workshops and resources. But most importantly, parents in crisis can get insight and encouragement from others who have been through it, says Shelley Katz, a group leader for the Mississauga chapter and an APSGO member for 11 years.
"One of the most common things we deal with is the child who runs away and comes home again and the parent who wishes help in negotiating a return," she says.
Trying to keep a teen at home while insisting they respect certain house rules can be a tricky line for parents to walk and a perfect recipe for ugly power struggles. APSGO takes the approach that if teenagers become part of the rule-making process and are treated like responsible members of the family, a lot of fights and problems can be avoided, Katz explains.
In October, an APSGO conference will feature Toronto psychologist and brain scientist Dr. Ron Clavier, an event worth marking on your calendars. Clavier is the author of the 2005 book Teen Brain, Teen Mind, which is chock full of realistic, respectful and sensible strategies for building a strong relationship with your adolescent, and the first book I turn to as a mother of teens.
Check out the APSGO website or call their 24-hour information line at 1-800-488-5666.