Let's face it. It's probably inevitable your teen will be making decisions related to alcohol, drugs, and sex. Sometimes it might be a low pressure situation, but sometimes it might turn into an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation. As parents, we want to give them a way out, right?
While parents may already do this, a recent blog from Bert Fulks, a father and youth minister, went viral with what he calls an "X-plan" to help his kids get out of a potentially bad situation. Fulks lays out an example of dropping his son Danny off at a party:
If anything about the situation makes him uncomfortable, all he has to do is text the letter "X" to any of us (his mother, me, his older brother or sister). The one who receives the text has a very basic script to follow. Within a few minutes, they call Danny's phone. When he answers, the conversation goes like this:
"Danny, something's come up and I have to come get you right now."
"I'll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I'm on my way."
At that point, Danny tells his friends that something's happened at home, someone is coming to get him, and he has to leave.
Lastly, Fulks points out the most critical component of the plan. His son can tell them as much or as little as he wants. There are no judgments and questions except he should tell them if someone is in danger. Since the post went viral, Fulks has answered questions and concerns from readers about his plan.
We checked in with Terri Erbacher, PhD, a clinical associate professor at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and a school psychologist, and Anita Kulick, president & CEO of Educating Communities for Parenting, for their thoughts.
As both point out, it's a good idea, but the groundwork needs to be laid to prepare them for these situations.
Should parents have an X-plan in place?
TE: Having a plan with your teen that allows them to escape any situation that makes them uncomfortable is not only a fantastic idea, but it could save them from harm. This is true for a multitude of situations that may make an adolescent uncomfortable, including the presence of drugs or alcohol, sexual encounters or expectations, witnessing or being a victim of dating violence or date rape, bullying, or learning that parents aren't home when a teen arrives at a friend's house. Teens are often afraid of getting into trouble for not being where they were supposed to be or being with peers they did not tell their parents they'd be with. Teens are most forthcoming when they are clear that they will not be judged.
AK: In practice, the X Plan is so simple it's certainly worth a try. It uses technology to update the old-fashion excuse, "I'd do it but my parents would kill me." Would it be better if teens had the confidence and courage to admit to their friends they didn't want to do something dangerous or illegal? Sure! That's what we all wish for, but our number one goal is keeping kids safe. So if they use parents as scapegoats, that's just fine.
The 'X plan' calls for no judgment or questions when a teen is picked up. So when is a good time to discuss risky and potentially harmful behaviors?
TK: Ideally, conversations about drug and alcohol use should begin well before parents have concerns that their child may be drinking or using drugs. These lessons can begin in pre-adolescence as psych education regarding the dangers and risks, including the risk of overdose/alcohol poisoning or being too intoxicated to make good decisions. Parents can use movies and television as well as social media to help their child see the risks. For example, there are parents sharing stories online of losing their children who were smoking marijuana without knowing it was laced. Ask your child how it makes him or her feel to hear the story. Ask your child what he or she would do in certain situations. Don't have conversations just once, but keep an ongoing dialogue.
AK: What isn't so simple about the X plan, is that it's based on a having a very strong, loving, and trusting parent-child relationship. That takes years to develop and constant attention. Whether you use an X Plan or not, every parent should strive to keep the lines of communication open and make sure children know you're there for them no matter what.