My daughter started high school this year. Ninth grade. And it was about a few weeks into September when she got invited to her first big party. I made sure the parents would be home, dropped her off at around 7, told her I'd be back at 10, then headed home to zone out on the sofa for the next three hours with the last few episodes of Bloodline. It was just under a half hour later when my phone buzzed with a text.
"You need to come get me," it read. "NOW."
What I would later find out was that there was drinking at the party. And drugs. And kids throwing up and jumping off the roof. When I finally arrived at the scene to pick up my daughter, I found myself in a line of cars about 11 or 12 deep. Apparently, my child wasn't the only one looking for a way out.
I had heard this would happen, of course. We have friends with older kids, and we've been out with them on more than one occasion when they've gotten a sudden phone call or text from their kids and had to jump up from the table to go rescue them ASAP. And so I had spoken to my daughter at length prior to the start of the school year about the fact that she could text her father and me at any time, day or night—even if she had lied to us about where she was going—and we would come get her if she needed us, no questions asked. I wasn't sure if I had actually gotten through to her, though. So I was both impressed and relieved when she reached out.
Still, it was easy for her to text us this time—she was at a big party and could easily go unnoticed. Plus other kids were doing the exact same thing. But what would happen the next time, I wondered, if she was in a smaller group, a smaller space, and feeling more conspicuous. Would she still reach out to us via text if she wanted to bail? I wasn't so sure. And it made my heart jump with panic just thinking about it.
Which is why I actually teared up when I read about the genius escape plan dad-of-three Bert Fulks came up with for his kids. It's called the X-Plan, and believe me when I tell you that it's a potential lifesaver. Here's how it works:
"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."
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."
So incredibly brilliant! Say what you will about cellphones ruining our kids' lives, but this is such an amazing example of turning that technology around and using it for something good. It's certainly a plan I wish I had been able to implement back when I was feeling peer-pressured as a teen. And I will definitely sleep better at night knowing my own kids will now have access to an escape route on the down-low when they are feeling boxed in.
Of course, there is one critical component of Fulks' plan that some parents may not find all that easy: "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)," Fulks explains. "This can be a hard thing for some parents (admit it, some of us are complete control-freaks); but I promise it might not only save them, but it will go a long way in building trust between you and your kid."
He's so right. Wanting to grill your kids with questions after picking them up, say, two towns over at a party filled with people you've never met is only second nature. But if we want our children to reach out to us in their toughest moments, we have to show them first that they can trust us.
"If you honor it, your kids will thank you for it," Fulks explains. "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. Prayers for strength and compassion to the parents out there as we all try to figure this whole parenting gig out—it never gets easy."