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The X Plan Is Genius and You Need to Teach It to Your Teen Now

I think we can all agree that parenting teens is decidedly not for the faint of heart. Most of us recall our own teen years a little too vividly. For me, vomiting a racing stripe of peach-schnapps puke out the window of a prom limo speeding along at 70 mph is a memory I’d be happy to lose — and an experience I wish very much I had known a way out of. I wound up in far too many bad situations — and my biggest hope as a parent is to help my daughters find a way out when they, too, inevitably wind up in a bad situation.

The X plan is the most caring, empowering tool we’ve heard of for helping your kids stay safe while saving face with peers. If they’re going to drive us crazy with their ever-tethered cellphones? Let’s put those phones to good use.

More: How Teenagers Are Like Cats

The X plan goes like this: 

Your 15-year-old heads off to a party with friends. If anything at all makes her uncomfortable at the party — alcohol, drugs, sexual harassment, general sense of unease — she knows you’ve got her back minus the grounding.

All she has to do? Text the letter X to you or another trusted adult or an older sibling.

If you’re on the receiving end of the X, you call her phone and run some version of this script:


“Hey, something’s come up and I have to come and get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I’m on my way.”

Boom. That’s it. Your kid tells her friends that there’s been an emergency at home, she doesn’t know what’s going on, but someone’s coming for her and she’s got to go. Nobody can argue with that.

This safety plan is genius in our book. Your kid goes into any situation with a built-in sense of security. There’s no need for your teen to mortify himself in front of peers. He can blame his quick exit on you, and if a friend wants out too, they can come along as “support” for your kid.

Basically, it’s special ops parenting, the equivalent of a Navy SEAL extraction from enemy turf. Smart, huh?

But here’s the deal — and this is the key part of the plan — your teen can tell you everything or nothing at all. It’s totally up to them. Yeah, we know you’re curious about what went down. We know you’re worried and upset and angry. But you’ve got to shelve it and skip the control-freak act. The X plan only works if your teen knows you’re not going to freak the hell out and lock them in their room until college. It’s pretty much the only way to keep the X plan grounded in trust and mutual respect.

But… what if you find your kid rappelling down from a skyscraper with a GoPro in a completely different city, reeking of terror and controlled substances? Can you ask then? Nope, not even then.

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The one thing that you can insist on knowing is if anyone else is in danger or at risk in some way. This is hard stuff to talk about, but it’s necessary. Teach your kids that we have to look out for others who might not have an easy way out or are in over their heads — even if it might create social drama to extract someone else or alert their parents.

It’s a simple plan, and the sheer act of sitting down and discussing an escape plan fosters real openness and trust with your teen (yes, the same one who’s been sneering at you when you ask whether GIF is pronounced “jif” or “gif” with a hard g or when you say “meme” like your French teacher would have). The X plan is a win all around, the way we see it. And when you’re parenting teens, wins can be in pretty short supply.

So have the X talk. Let your kid know that their safety means everything to you — and you’ve got their back, no matter what. It’s a way better gift than a new car. Though they might not figure that out until much, much later. But you’ll know.

More: Should We Allow Teens to Drink Under Adult Supervision?

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