UAE: Why are teens running away? Experts break down the distress signals

Experts identify the indicators that parents should be vigilant about


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Tue 7 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 May 2024, 10:07 PM

Adolescents experiencing untreated mental health challenges may experience feelings of guilt related to different issues, prompting them to run away from home, say experts.

This advice follows amidst numerous instances of teenagers leaving home in the UAE, with most returning safely except for the recent case of the unfortunate death of a 17-year-old.

While children may be running from something, they could also be running into something, explained experts in wellness and medicine. It’s crucial to acknowledge that running away can lead to negative outcomes as well.

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Therefore, healthcare professionals reiterate that parents must try to create an atmosphere of “acceptance at home”.

It's crucial to prioritise listening to children when they're speaking, rather than engaging in television watching or internet surfing.

Khaleej Times reached out to experts to identify the indicators that parents should be vigilant about, indicating potential pressure faced by their teenagers from various sources.

Runaway behavior is a ‘coping mechanism’

Dr Sanghanayak. S. Meshram, Specialist Psychiatry, Zulekha Hospital Sharjah, said, “Running away from home can be viewed as a symptom of distress in kids, and can have multiple reasons. It can range from stressful situations related to studies, relationships, sexual orientation, fear of consequences of mistakes or exam results, avoiding going to school due to bullying, substance abuse problems, or problems at home like physical or sexual abuse, harsh parenting, parents separating or divorcing or the arrival of a new step-parent, parents drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and sibling rivalry among others.”

Dr Sanghanayak. S. Meshram. Photo: Supplied
Dr Sanghanayak. S. Meshram. Photo: Supplied

Experts highlighted that when teenagers start using substance abuse on a regular basis, they may eventually leave home to hide it from parents.

They also perceive running as a “coping mechanism” when children who are not able to deal with their stress may look at running away as a strategy to avoid all their problems.

He added, “Teens with untreated mental health issues feel guilty for their condition and see their families troubled due to their illness. Teenagers may observe parents arguing or complaining about their behaviour. They often feel that harming themselves or running will solve the problems. Additionally, social media and movies often glamourise life on streets and show it as a path to freedom and independence.”

Signs to watch out for

Medics pointed out signs of concern among teenagers that may include sudden changes in behaviour, such as declining academic performance, heightened aggression, and irritability.

They suggest it’s important for parents to be attentive to their children’s friendships and behavioural shifts, offering moral guidance from an early age.

Dr Bino Mary Chacko. Photo: Supplied
Dr Bino Mary Chacko. Photo: Supplied

Dr Bino Mary Chacko, Specialist Psychiatrist, Medeor Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said, “Rule-breaking tendencies and acts of cruelty to animals are also alarming indicators. Additionally, a lack of empathy and a tendency to hold grudges excessively warrant attention. Isolation, particularly spending extended periods alone in their room and prohibiting others from entering, may signal deeper issues requiring intervention.”


Wellness experts also stressed that often parents come to them seeking help, particularly concerned about issues like disrespectful behaviour, sibling rivalry, negative peer influence, bullying, risk-taking behaviours, and the impact of body shaming as their children navigate through puberty.

Girish Hemnani, Energy Healer and Life Coach based in Dubai, said, “I advise parents to focus on fostering open communication to combat these issues effectively. It's crucial to discuss the importance of respect, both at home and towards figures of authority and to set consistent boundaries. With sibling conflicts, teaching conflict resolution skills and ensuring each child feels equally valued can mitigate rivalry. Understanding peer influence is also key; parents should encourage their children to engage in positive group activities and provide them with strategies to resist negative pressures.”

Girish Hemnani. Photo: Supplied
Girish Hemnani. Photo: Supplied

They elaborated navigating pre-teen and teenage challenges require a proactive approach—open communication, consistent discipline, and a supportive environment.

It’s recommended that parents seek resources, attend workshops, and consult professionals to better support and navigate this challenging phase of their children’s lives.

Hemnani added, “With the challenges of puberty, such as body shaming, I stress the importance of promoting a healthy body image by emphasizing health over appearance and celebrating diverse body types. Provide accurate information about puberty and body changes to alleviate fears. This helps in preventing misinformation and building confidence.”


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