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Thankful Moments

The “X-Plan” is more than an escape hatch. It’s a chance to build trust.

If you’ve been holding out on getting your teen a cell phone, the X-Plan might be a reason to cave.

It’s the brainchild of youth minister and blogger Bert Fulks who works with teenagers in addiction recovery — kids who’ve hit rock bottom even before they can buy their own drinks. Most of them fell into their addictions not because they wanted to look cool, not even because of good old-fashioned curiosity, but because they felt like they didn’t have a choice.

Everyone fantasizes about being the kid (or having the kid) who’s brave enough to stand up in a smoky room, declare “this is wrong” and lead the other teens with tons integrity in an age-appropriate activity somewhere outside of the den of iniquity. But that’s a tall order in the age of online bullying. It’s a lot to ask a teenager to call out the cool kids for doing something uncool. It’s a lot more to ask her to stick around after she’s done so.

That’s the genius of the X-Plan. It offers kids a quiet way out — no attention drawn, no questions asked.

Fulks’s strategy goes like this: If one of his kids starts to feel uneasy while they’re out with friends, all they have to do is text “X” to anyone in the family to activate the plan. Whoever receives the text responds with a simple phone call:

“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.”

And that’s it.

The teen gets a simple, subtle way out of a sticky situation, taking the fear of bullying off the table. And the parents get to sleep a little easier knowing that while they can’t control their adolescent’s every move, they can at least make it easier for her to make the smart choice — the choice to remove herself from situations when they get dark or dangerous.

Child and Family Therapist Clair Mellenthin, Director of Child and Family Services at Wasatch Family Therapy, loves that the X-Plan gives kids room to make mistakes while allowing them a safe way out of potentially risky, or dangerous, circumstances.

“It really helps kids and parents create a safety plan with each other,” Mellenthin said. “And it also gives them permission to trust each other.”

A safety plan like the X-Plan is something Mellenthin says should be a part of every parent/teen relationship. No parent wants their kid to do bonehead things, but bonehead things are what kids do. It’s in their job description. Families need to plan ahead for when their choices lead to circumstances that are uncomfortable, or worse. The secret to making the X-Plan work is laying a foundation for a secure parent-child attachment. If moms and dads can take disappointments in stride and make children feel loved and supported even when they make mistakes, the lines of communications stay free and clear.

Mellenthin’s only complaint against the X-Plan is with the “no questions asked” stipulation. Parameters like “no questions asked,” even if they’re meant to make kids feel safer, can end up stifling communication and stunting relationships. To keep their kids safe, parents need to be able to understand what went wrong in the plan, and kids need to feel comfortable telling them.

“It really is about the quality of the attachment of the relationship and that needs to be worked on right from the beginning,” Mellenthin said. “If you have a healthy, secure relationship with your kid, they’re going to call you.”

No matter where they’re calling from, you’ll be thankful when they do.

HT Bert Fulks

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