One of the toughest challenges adolescents face is peer pressure. For most teens, the desire to fit in and be accepted is very important. Feeling accepted by others can outweigh their ability to think clearly and really evaluate the consequences to their choices (not to mention that their young brains are still developing!). This may lead to getting into sticky social situations, where the teen find him or himself in a compromising situation.
The X-Plan is a strategy for parents and teens to work together to help them get out of a social situation that they know isn’t good for them. It works like this: a teen simply texts the letter “X” to mom or dad, who then replies with a text like, “something bad has happened, and I need you to come home right away.” This can give a kid an out, an escape of sorts, while removing the fear of bullying, social ostracization, or looking “dumb” in front of their friends. It can also help give parents peace of mind that their child has a concrete strategy to deal with uncomfortable situations.
Follow Up Conversation
Though the developer of the X-Plan idea suggests a “no questions asked” policy attached to it, I take a slightly different approach: while a parent should first and foremost commend a child for reaching out through text (“I’m really proud of you for getting yourself for texting me and choosing not to be a party with alcohol”), eventually you’ll want to dig deeper to find out what happened. It need not be immediate (perhaps wait until the next day), and it certainly should not be accusatory (“How could you be so stupid?!”), but it’s important for you to get to the bottom of what your child observed or experienced that caused him/her to activate the plan. A good start to this conversation is a question such as, “Help me understand what happened last night“. As a parent, it is your job to help teach as well as protect. Without enabling poor choices or acting as a helicopter parent, its important to figure out if there’s something more that you can help your child with. Consider approaching the conversation with an emotionally neutral statement like, “Let’s talk about what happened“. Don’t force it; remember to give praise that your child reached out!
Why It Matters
The X-Plan seeks a balance between kids needing to fend for themselves completely and having their parents come rescue them. After all, they still need to make that proactive decision to send the first text. But it’s more than an escape plan: it provides a way for parents and their young adult children to build trust in each other as the teen developmentally gains a stronger ability to problem solve and make mature decisions.
The Gray Stuff…Boundaries, Teaching Moments, and Love
Creating a safety plan with your kids and teens is a crucial lifeline as they are growing up and learning from their mistakes. Remember parents- making mistakes is how we GROW and figure out who we are and what we stand for. If a child knows that no matter what sticky situation they have gotten themselves into, they can reach out to their parent who will help them through it, this creates a strong sense of relationship and value of the child’s inner worth. It is also how they begin to really internalize their own personal values and morals. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be consequences or expectations to poor decision making or unhealthy choices. By using these moments as a teaching opportunity, we continue to teach our children right from wrong (even our teens, who know everything). Hang in there Moms and Dads, teenagehood is a bumpy ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.