Inside: Our number one goal as parents is to keep our teenagers safe. This simple idea will help.
When we read Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go’ we assume our kids will only go to good places with good people in pastel-coloured backdrops.
But in the blink of an eye, these children who were safely tucked under our wing, suddenly have increasing freedom as teens.
And we need a simple plan to keep our teens safe, while keeping communication lines open.
In a series of bad parenting moves and poor planning, our teenager almost found himself in a bad place. I’ll vulnerably share my own lack of a plan in order to help another family.
Photo credit: Jon Tyson
Our son was invited to a party and the daughter’s parents worked hard to keep it at a small size.
We talked about how parties could quickly get out of control, even in size. Not far from us, 1500 people showed up to a house party which was supposed to include a “few friends,” thanks to social media. My son assured us this girl was from a quiet family who would not have a large party.
Mistake #1 I didn’t contact the parents myself.
My son’s friend said his dad would drive them both to the party and we set a reasonable pick up time at the end of the night.
Mistake #2 I should have dropped him off myself to avoid a near-disaster later.
I was supposed to pick my son up at 11:00. I was trying to offer extra freedom since he had not asked to attend a gathering of school friends before.
At the end of the night, as I was getting ready to pick him up, my son called. He told my husband he was ready for a ride home. I motioned to my husband that I would head out, and hopped in the car.
Mistake #3 I didn’t talk to my son directly.
As I neared the party’s location, I spotted police cars barricading off this residential road. There were clusters of teenagers milling about outside.
I spoke to an officer and told him my son was in the house and I was here to pick him up. He told me to text him and have him come out, because no one was allowed in the house.
Mistake #4 I didn’t have a phone.
Mistake #5 My son didn’t have a phone either.
We were basically a phoneless, disconnected pair. I had no way to reach him. I knew that at least one of us was panic-stricken and desperately needing chocolate.
Trying to reassure myself, I asked what the situation was inside the house. The officer said the party had gotten out of control. Way too many people showed up and there were reportedly some kids with weapons there.
My legs went weak. In a sea of teenage faces, I spotted one of my son’s friends. But he didn’t know where my son was – he had just arrived as the police started breaking up the party.
His words sucker-punched me: “Miss. Some of these guys are really bad guys.”
I forced myself to dig deep and pretend to be calm. Like I had experience losing track of my teen at police-invaded parties. I offered to drive my new best friend home if he would stay with me until we sorted it out and bless his heart, he agreed.
We walked around the street then drove through nearby streets to see if we could find my boy. No luck.
Desperate, we headed back home to see if my son had left a further phone message. It was close to midnight at this point. A confused message was on our phone: “Mom? Where are you? I told Dad you could come get me in front of ____ school.”
Mistake # 3 (again): Don’t let your husband take phone messages. In his defense, my husband didn’t realize the location was important. He didn’t realize my son had changed our pre-arranged pick up location.
Ready for a happy ending? I sure was.
My son was exactly where he said he would be. In front of a dimly lit school on a quiet street with no one in sight. Once the adrenaline subsided (his and mine), it turned out some of his decisions had not been as terrible as I thought.
When his friend’s dad dropped them off, there was already a huge line up of teenagers trying to get into the party. The poor parents and neighbours were standing at the front door, refusing to let anyone in. If I HAD been the dropper-offer, you had better believe that would have been the end of this adventure!
But no, this dad allowed the kids to get out of the car and said, “Have fun.” Seriously.
My son and a few friends decided to hang out in the area. They had been walking up and down residential streets for a few hours. They NEVER entered the party with the not-good guys and the weapons and all the danger.
Could he have called me sooner to let me know about the change of plans? Absolutely. (on a friend’s phone – I know, I know….)
Could I have done so many things differently? Absolutely.
I may have a vulnerability hangover after hitting ‘publish.’
No one wants to be the irresponsible Mom.
No one wants to announce to the world that they were the irresponsible Mom. Even reliving this story makes me feel all the feels again.
But I want to remind parents that innocent plans can go south at an alarming rate. And we all need to be prepared.
Now that we know what NOT to do, here are some suggestions to set yourselves up for success.
A father recently created the X Plan to help his teens get out of any uncomfortable situation, while still saving face in front of their peers. I’m always on the hunt for tools to add to my parenting toolbox – and the X Plan is a great one.
It is like the lifesaving Stop-Drop-And-Roll mantra for elementary students.
You hope they don’t have to use it but it needs to be in place in case they ever do.
The X Plan will only be effective if we do our part as parents. And our role is just as important as that of our teenagers.
How do we keep teenagers safe with the X plan?
1. Openly discuss it as a family
Bert Fulks discovered that every teenager he worked with wished they had an escape plan at least once in their lives. And many faced huge regrets because they did not.
He wanted to see that change for his own children and others, so he is asking parents to spread the word about this simple plan called the X Plan.
Once a teen texts a family member the letter ‘X’, their calm, smooth rescue will be activated. Parents will calmly call them and tell them they need to come right away to pick them up for a family emergency. It’s that simple.
2. Be available
In order for the X plan to work, we need to be accessible to our teenagers. Anytime. No matter the situation they find themselves in, they need to be able to reach us night or day. Keep the phone charged and close whenever your teen is out.
So much of my above panic could have been avoided if we had been able to quickly communicate with each other.
Of course – the assumption is that our teens will do the same. But that may not be worth mentioning since teens are more likely to forget to put pants on than to forget to take their devices with them.
3. Follow the commitment
The commitment states that there will be no questions asked after the teen has reached out for help. No matter where they are, or who they are with, parents will simply pick them up and head home.
Will this be the hardest step in the process? Absolutely. But if our teens can’t trust us to keep our end of the deal, they will not reach out for help the next time.
And we want to remove all barriers that would prevent them from reaching out since even signaling for our help is very brave.
4. Stay connected
Even if our teens are going through a prickly stage, sending every vibe that we are the last people they want to talk to, we must do our part to keep lines of communication open. I am learning that when my instinct is to pull away, that is a signal to lean in – in a casual, absolutely-not-awkward, chill Mama way, of course.
However tumultuous your relationship seems, do not give up.
High school students have told me they were grateful that their parents didn’t give up on them even though they knew they were hard to be around. And they later thanked the same parents they had resisted all of those years.
Laura Markham from Ahaparenting.com explains, “maintaining a 5 [positive interactions] to 1 [negative interaction] ratio is effective insurance to stay connected in every relationship, including between parents and teens.”
Connecting positively, even in small ways, helps teenagers avoid situations requiring an escape plan. But if they do find themselves in need of the plan, reconnecting after the dust has settled is equally important.
To help stay connected with your teens, grab your copy of this printable packed with quick, fun ideas.
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TWO VERSIONS: For parenting KIDS and TEENS.
You’ll also receive hope-filled emails about raising seriously great kids without being so serious.
Please help spread the word about this X Plan – and when you do, gently remind other parents of their role in helping the plan succeed.
Have you set up a family system to give your teenagers a way out, no matter what?