Police and social workers believe that fostering communication between parents and young people may be the best way to tackle the problem of runaways who choose to spend nights in parks and 24- hour convenience stores rather than go home. Mrs Cheng, Mrs Lee and their children were among six families in Sha Tin who took part in a day camp and workshops organised by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong to reach a better understanding between each other. Mrs Lee and her 12-year-old daughter Ting-ting quarrelled repeatedly before she ran away from home and stayed with some friends. Ting-ting was obedient and performed well at school until she began to hang out with her friends. Ting-ting said she was bored at home and also wanted to escape family problems. 'I can't discipline myself when I am with friends. I stayed out late and told her (mother) about it, but she started scolding me without listening. So I didn't ring her up anymore. 'I just wanted to have fun at my friends' homes. Their parents were there, too. It was safe and we were not going astray. We were not wandering around at karaoke bars or parks,' Ting-ting said. Friends were the only people she could turn to for consolation, especially at times of emotional distress. Mrs Lee, however, said she was distraught because Ting-ting did not phone home. Mrs Lee searched for her daughter in nearby parks, shopping centres and fast-food restaurants. 'She is still very young and can't tell right from wrong. Girls, usually targeted by gangsters or molesters, are in a dangerous situation.' She reported Ting-ting missing to the police, kept listening out for radio reports and rang up Ting-ting's friends in order to find out where she was. 'It was difficult to control my emotions when she came back because I love her so much.' Mrs Lee said she has now changed the way she deals with Ting-ting, not putting pressure on her and encouraging her to speak up. Ting-ting said she was annoyed when her mother nagged her. 'I just want to talk as little as possible, say for about five minutes. I knew that she cared and I felt guilty when I ran away.' Mrs Cheng and her son, James, 11, experienced similar problems but she could not figure out why her son ran away. 'He was honest and obedient. But he suddenly left home one night and I was so depressed.' She agreed with Mrs Lee that more communication with their children could have solved problems earlier. 'I have learned to build trust and care for him without giving him too much pressure. We should also respect each other because we are friends after all.' The families learned ways to better understand each other's different values through communication workshops. They learned how to break the ice by co-operating in a series of challenging and creative activities. Association social workers Lam Yee-mui and Wong Kwai- yau said fostering communication between parents and children could eliminate the runaway problem. 'These young people may not understand themselves well and want to show their peers that they are old enough and independent enough to stay away from strict parental supervision,' Ms Lam said. 'They [the runaways] are not connected to triads but when they stay out at games centres and 24-hour convenience stores, they are more vulnerable to bad influences which worry their parents the most.' Mr Wong said prevention starts with good family communication. Showing children love, care, respect and support was much better than scolding and beating. He said patience and an open mind were of equal importance. 'With tempers fraying and poor communication, young people easily find excuses to run away from pressure, school and family.' Senior Inspector Jennifer Chin Tsang-lo of the New Territories South Regional Missing Person Unit said the unit would step up education programmes with youth organisations, targeting runaways and juvenile delinquency. The unit is working with Hong Kong Polytechnic University on a survey on youth runaways and is taking a more pro-active approach to prevent youths from running away.