Peer pressure can put your teenager in really difficult spots. Middle school and high school kids are often in the company of their friends. But all this “fitting in” and being “cool” can often lead to pretty sticky situations where they are forced to do something they don’t want to. They just can’t turn their back from it for fear of being called lame or uncool. And then to add to that, they are too embarrassed to call you for help because it likely means they’re in for another round of thrashing, this time from their parents.
In this instance, who are your kids going to turn to when they're in trouble?
Burt Fulks, a dad of three kids, devised a clever way to help his kids get out of uncomfortable scenarios without feeling trapped or ashamed. It’s called the “X Plan.” Whenever something doesn’t feel right and they need a way out, his kids will text the letter “x”. Anyone from the family who receives the text will immediately call them, ordering them to come home now. The conversation would typically go:
Kid (Answers phone): Hi dad. What’s up?
Dad: We need you to come home now. Where are you?
Kid: I’m at (friend’s place). Why, what happened?
Dad: Will explain later.
There’s a legit excuse to bail out now. Your child can just say, “Something came up, I need to go,” without further explanation. The friends wouldn’t mind, after all, parents are the very definition of killjoy, aren’t they? And it's important to note here-- don't actually make up a lie. It's so much harder to recover from a lie than it is from just 'I gotta go'.
But according to Fulks, the most important part of the X Plan is the one that comes after the escape.
“Once he’s been extracted from the trenches, [he] knows that he can tell us as much or as little as he wants … but it’s completely up to him,” Fulks said in his blog. “The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions (even if he is 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be).”
“This can be a hard thing for some parents (admit it, some of us are complete control-freaks); but I promise it might not only save them, but it will go a long way in building trust between you and your kid.”
Fulks, who is a youth minister from West Virginia, spends time with your people who are struggling with addiction. More than some clever escape plan, the X-Plan gives your kids the chance to stay out of trouble while helping them learn to stand up for themselves.
It helps nurture a sense of trust between parents and kids. It’s tough for parents to stay cool and composed all throughout the plot. From the moment you saw that text to the moment you pickd them up your heart rate is going 10x its normal speed, terrified that they're shooting heroin into their eyeballs or something. But it’s important to give your kids every reason to trust and rely on you. Yes, even if it means biting your tongue so that they don’t react badly and stop talking to you. Remember: you don’t like your kids to feel trapped in an ugly situation because they are afraid of coming home to face punishment. If you take advantage of this moment of their defenselessness and start to be preachy, your teenager will be less likely to reach out to you for help and grow more distant in the future.
You can always save the serious talk for later. My advice is that when you are faced with this situation (as inevitably all parents with teenage kids do), use the X-Plan and try not to get angry too quickly. After all, the most important thing at the end of the day is that your kid is safe. I’ve always believed in the power counting 1 to 10 and taking a deep breath. The wait for a response will make your teenagers nervous enough!