The Power of a Simple Letter (#xplan)


One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve seen lately is the X Plan, from Burt Fulks, a father of three. In a nutshell, the X plan enables a teen to text the letter “X” to their parents or siblings when they are in a potentially dangerous situation. The parent or sibling will then call the teen and say they need to pick them up right away.

We often think it’s enough to tell our teens things like “don’t do drugs,” or “don’t get in a car with a drunk driver.”  While this advice is good, it’s oversimplifies a situation, by negating the role of peer pressure and the fear of social ostracism. Even as adults, we know it’s often easier to go with the flow than create waves. What the X Plan does is give teens a “way out” of a situation that’s making them uncomfortable.  This “way out” puts them in control and gives them time to plan a response for the next difficult time.  Truthfully, how many adults would like to have an X plan sometimes?

The tough part of the X plan for parents is that it comes with a “no questions asked” and therefore, no punishment policy. I know there are some of you saying “no way,” and I get it. But, we know one of the main reasons teens don’t talk to their parents is fear of getting in trouble. This fear of punishment can put teens in very risky situations without a way out, i.e. getting in a car with a drunk driver so as not to miss curfew, rather than asking you to pick them up.  Would you call your parents if you knew you’d be in trouble or lectured?

I’m not advocating sending our kids out without any rules or accountability. Ideally, these conversations (about alcohol, drugs, sexting, etc) should begin early and happen more than once.   Kids need to know their parents’ values, and be prepared for situations that challenge these values. They also need to know their parents “have their back,” and are aware of the temptations facing them.

Many teachable moments occur through movies, television, even social media, if we’re willing to go there. Discussing what a character did right or could have done differently are good starting points, realizing life is usually more complicated than the screen. Teens often don’t want to talk about themselves, but may engage if you can start a general conversation about people drinking, using drugs, etc.  Sharing our own experiences, good and bad, of peer pressure can also help them feel less alone. Creating and practicing “scripts” for how to respond if asked to do something they don’t want to do can be a literal lifesaver.

We do our kids a disservice when we send them out into the world without the tools to handle situations.  Even the “good” kids will encounter challenging situations, so we can’t think our kids are immune, or that one conversation is enough. As awkward as it can be to talk about certain topics, if we’re not going to talk about it with them, who will?

My “homework” for the week for all of us:  let’s commit to having at least one awkward conversation with our kids.  At the very least, it’ll be a good story one day!

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