Give Your Kid a Secret Code to Help Them Get Out of Sticky Situations
Kids, no matter how you’ve raised them, will find themselves in tough situations. You know these moments—the ones where they don’t want to be there, but they also don’t want to look uncool by ducking out. It’s great that you’ve reminded them that they can call you for help at any hour, for any reason, but that offer often gets lost once they’re put under pressure. You need a more specific plan.
It’s Freshman Orientation Week at Lifehacker! This week, we’re covering ways to snap out of your summer haze and into an autumnal blitz of activity, whether you’re actually heading to campus for the first time, getting your own kids ready for school, or looking for ways to just be more productive in the classroom of life. So velcro up your Trapper Keepers, students. Class is now in session.
A strategy that got a lot of attention on social media last year—and is worth noting again as kids head off to junior high and high school—is the X-Plan, explained in a blog post by a British father named Bert Fulks. He describes how it works in his family:
Let’s say that my youngest, Danny, gets dropped 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.
That’s it. The kid has to get out of there. You are his alibi. He’s safe, and his image remains in tact. You can use an “X,” like Fulks’ family, or another secret code. The new notOK app, developed by a 15-year-old named Hannah Lucas, might be a helpful tool here, too—when teens are feeling vulnerable, they can open the app, tap the red button and a text will be sent to up to five pre-selected contacts that reads: “Hey, I’m not OK. Please call me, text me, or come find me,” along with a link to their GPS location.
Fulks writes that there is a big condition to using this system: “The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions.” This means that even if you pick up your kid and she smells like Jägermeister and cigarette smoke, even if she’s 10 miles from the place she’s supposed to be, even if she dragged you out of bed at 3 AM and your first instinct is to demand a full explanation immediately, you must stay quiet and allow your child to tell you as much or as little as she wants. This is hard, so hard, but the purpose of having the plan is so your kids will use it and avoid potentially bad things. By hanging back in these situations, Fulks believes you’re building trust, and in return, your kids will be likely be the ones who’ll start the conversations on their own.
“Let’s be honest,” he writes. “A kid in fear of punishment is a lot less likely to reach out for help when the world comes at them.”
The plan should work in tandem with ongoing discussions about peer pressure and spotting risks and learning how to say no. These are kids and they’re still learning. As they figure it all out, they can know that you’ll always be there if they really need you.