A simple way of giving your children a discreet way out for when they need help, without feeling embarrassed.

As our kids grow older and their social circle expands, it’s inevitable they’ll start going to parties or having sleepovers—without you in tow.

While it’s important to grant them the independence, would they know what to do if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable, tricky or potentially dangerous situation?

Why it’s important to prepare

“Often, in the heat of the moment, it’s very difficult to think of an intelligent way out and you become paralysed,” psychologist Collett Smart warns. It’s even worse for young people because “they don’t have the life experience and just aren’t mature enough”.

In his article “X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)“, author Bert Fulks says, “I can’t count the times sex, drugs and alcohol came rushing into my young world; I wasn’t ready for any of it, but I didn’t know how to escape and, at the same time, not castrate myself socially.” 

Peer pressure can be strong and all-encompassing. While you may be confident your child knows right from wrong, they may not be able to extract themselves from a harmful situation simply because it can be too difficult to do so without committing social suicide.

And we know no young person wants to do that.

As parents, our job is to talk about the potential scenarios and provide our young people with the tools before they even think about heading out the door without us.

In the video below, Collett Smart discusses ways to help our children get out of tricky situations discreetly.

Often, the easiest way for a young person to leave a social situation is to blame their parents.

“My mother is so lame. She says she’s coming to pick me up and I don’t know why.”

“My dad says there’s an emergency at home and I have to go home.”

But they need to be able to use that excuse convincingly.

Cue code words.

Creating safe code words

Agree with your child beforehand on a sentence they can say when on the phone to you, or something they can text you, that means “come get me now” without it being obvious to anybody else.

A few years ago, Bert’s “X-plan”—texting the letter X—went viral:

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.”

“What happened?”

“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. In short, Danny knows he has a way out; at the same time, there’s no pressure on him to open himself to any social ridicule. He has the freedom to protect himself while continuing to grow and learn to navigate his world.

If texting the letter X doesn’t work in your household, here are a few other ideas that your kids could use (either while talking to you on the phone or via text):

  • “Is grandpa okay?”
  • “Did you feed the fish?”
  • “I’m feeling unwell.”
  • Sending a specific emoji

How to build on that trust

As our children grow older, there will be things they’ll choose to keep from us. It’s important to allow them that space, while letting them know we are there for them, without judgement and with unconditional love.

In the video below, Collett shares how to better connect with your teen.

One of the ways to build this trust is to assure our kids that we will be there to bail them out of any situation—even the ones they’re not meant to be at.

As Bert recalls from his teenage years: “I certainly couldn’t call my parents and ask them to rescue me. I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. As a teen, forcing down alcohol seemed a whole lot easier than offering myself up for punishment, endless nagging and interrogation, and the potential end of freedom as I knew it.”

So let them know when they send the code, you’ll be there to rescue them, no questions asked.

“That’s a hard thing,” Collett admits. “Let them feel safe enough to tell you when they’re ready.”

Do you and your child have a code word? What is it?

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