As a parent, we never stop worrying about our children. The day they’re born we count all 10 fingers and all 10 toes, and then we count them over again. It’s in our nature to protect the little humans we gave life to.
Of course, that cycle continues as they grow up. Rather than counting 10 fingers and 10 toes, we wind up counting how many hours we lose sleep when they’re out with friends, having sleepovers or getting their driver’s license. Then we count again—the number of gray hairs that somehow multiply on our heads everyday. (I just stop counting them when I get to 10.)
The teen years are a special time. They’re full of dually proud and heartbreaking moments, watching our little babies grow up, make decisions, use their voice. But they’re also a time when things are completely unknown. Our kids are making decisions that year after year, we have less influence in, and it’s inevitable that they’ll end up in a sticky situation from time to time.
Bert Fulks knows the feeling well.
The minister, who shares his own experiences and parental insight on his blog, spends an hour each week with young people—teenagers—who are going through recovery programs for addiction.
“I’m always humbled and honored to get this time with these beautiful young souls that have been so incredibly assaulted by a world they have yet to understand.”
Bert says that working with the teens is not only for their benefit, but his as well.
“This also comes with the bittersweet knowledge that these kids still have a fighting chance while several of my friends have already had to bury their own children.”
He recently asked the group of teens, “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?”
All of the teens raised their hands. “Every single one of them.”
“In the spirit of transparency…I get it. Though in my mid-40s, I’m still in touch with that awkward boy who often felt trapped in the unpredictable currents of teenage experiences. 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. I still recall my first time drinking beer at a friend’s house in junior high school—I hated it, but I felt cornered.”
Of course as parents, we all understand peer pressure, and remember the days when our world revolved around our social lives. Bert remembers them too, but he realized something that we’ve all been missing: Peer pressure wasn’t really about our peers…it was about our parents.
“As an adult, that now seems silly, but it was my reality at the time. “Peer pressure” was a frivolous term for an often silent, but very real thing; and 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.”
His realization is a perfect depiction of what many of us adults experienced, so there’s no reason why today’s teens would feel any different. A major part of growing up is learning how to navigate uncomfortable situations.
And so began, the X-Plan.
Bert came up with a lifeline that his kids are free to use at anytime, and it’s completely changing the parenting game. If they need to get out of a bad situation, Bert’s kids have a secret text message they know they’re allowed to send him, no questions asked.
“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).”
Whoever receives the text will then call Danny’s phone and have a conversation that goes something 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.”
Once Danny hangs up the phone, he will tell his friends that something has happened at home, someone is on their way to get him and he has to leave.
“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.”
Bert goes on to explain that there’s one rule to the “X-Plan,” and it’s not for the kids.
“Once he’s been extracted from the trenches, Danny knows that he can tell us as much or as little as he wants…but it’s completely up to him. The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions (even if he is 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be).”
He emphasizes that the plan is meant to support our teens, and that in order for it to work, and keep working, parents also have to agree to its terms—which can be incredibly difficult for some of us—but Bert has seen first-hand how much trust it builds between parents and kids.
Essentially this means that if your teen goes to a friend’s house and drinks a beer before realizing they’re in a bad situation, they still have the freedom and comfort of reaching out for mom and dad’s assistance.
Bert stresses that there is one exception to the plan in his family.
“Danny knows if someone is in danger, he has a moral obligation to speak up for their protection, no matter what it may cost him personally. That’s part of the lesson we try to teach our kids—we are our brother’s keeper, and sometimes we have to stand for those too weak to stand for themselves. Beyond that, he doesn’t have to say a word to us. Ever.”
Technology is always advancing, and with it comes advancements in parenthood: using the technology our kids have access to as a way to build trust, keep them safe and give them the freedom they need to grow into wise adults who learn how to parent well.
“I urge you to use some form of our X-plan in your home. If you honor it, your kids will thank you for it. You never know when something so simple could be the difference between your kid laughing with you at the dinner table or spending six months in a recovery center…or (God forbid) something far worse.”
If the X-Plan is able to get just one kid out of a bad situation, then we’re doing our parts as parents. It’s never easy, but real tools and innovative resources like this one could make a world of a difference in who our children grow up to be.
We hope you and your family can have an open conversation, and find honoring ways to integrate this plan into your lives.