X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)

(As seen on The Today Show, Good Housekeeping, HerViewFromHome, ScaryMommy, The Huffington Post, Mamamia, MomsEveryday, and numerous social and news media outlets. UPDATED – 3/3/2017)

Friends, as most of you know, I get to spend an hour each week with a group of young people going through addiction recovery.  Yes.  Young people.  I’m talking teenagers who are locked away for at least six months as they learn to overcome their addictions.  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.  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.

Recently I asked these kids a simple question:  “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?”

They all raised their hands.

Every single one of them.

In the spirit of transparency … I get it.  Though in my mid-forties, 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.  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.


xplan-text1-2For these reasons, we now have something called the “X-plan” in our family.  This simple, but powerful tool is a lifeline that our kids are free to use at any time.  Here’s how it works:

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.

This is one of the most loving things we’ve ever given him, and it offers him a sense of security and confidence in a world that tends to beat our young people into submission.

xplan-text1However, there’s one critical component to the X-plan:  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).  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.

(One caveat here is that 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.)

For many of us parents, we lament the intrusion of technology into our relationships.  I hate seeing people sit down to dinner together and then proceed to stare into their phones.  It drives me nuts when my kids text me from another room in our house.  However, cell phones aren’t going away, so we need to find ways to use this technology to help our kids in any way we can.

Since first publishing this piece, I’ve seen an incredible amount of discussion about the pros and cons. Here are some of the questions folks have had:

Doesn’t this encourage dishonesty?

Absolutely not. It actually presents an opportunity for you as a parent to teach your kids that they can be honest (something DID come up, and they DO have to leave), while learning that it’s okay to be guarded in what they reveal to others. They don’t owe anyone an explanation the next day, and if asked can give the honest answer, “It’s private and I don’t want to talk about it.” Boom! Another chance for a social skill life-lesson from Mom and Dad.

Does this cripple a kid socially instead of teaching them to stand up to others?

I know plenty of adults who struggle to stand up to others. This simply gives your kid a safe way out as you continue to nurture that valuable skill.

What if this becomes habitual?

If you’re regularly rescuing your kid, hopefully your family is having some conversations about that.

If you don’t talk about it or ask questions, how do they learn?

If you’re building a relationship of trust with your kids, they’ll probably be the ones to start the conversation. More importantly, most of these conversations need to take place on the FRONT-side of events. Ever taken a cruise? They all make you go through the safety briefing in case the boat sinks. They don’t wait until the ship’s on fire to start telling you about the lifeboats. Talk with them. Let your kids ask questions and give them frank answers.

If they’re not where they’re supposed to be, shouldn’t there be consequences?

Let’s be honest. A kid in fear of punishment is a lot less likely to reach out for help when the world comes at them. Admitting that they’re in over their heads is a pretty big life-lesson all by itself. However, don’t get so caught up in all of the details. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all scheme. Every parent, every kid, and every situation is unique. What it might look like in your family could be totally different from mine—and that’s okay.

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.

At the end of the day, however, the most important thing is that you’re having some open, honest discussions with your kids. Keep building a relationship of trust. This isn’t the same world we grew up in. It’s not like sneaking a beer at Billy’s house anymore. Our kids face things on a daily basis that—given one bad decision—can be fatal. Don’t believe me? I’ve been to funerals for great kids from awesome families.

Friends, it’s a dangerous world. And our kids are out in it everyday.

Prayers for strength and compassion to the parents out there as we all try to figure out this whole parenting gig—it never gets easy.

I beg you to share this piece.  Talk about it with your kids.  If this somehow gives just one kid a way out of a bad situation, we can all feel privileged to have been a part of that.


Blessings, friends.



Release date from Simon & Schuster / Howard Books: June 11, 2019.

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792 thoughts on “X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)

  1. This is a great way to raise kids who can’t stand up for themselves, and think mommy and daddy will just take care of everything.


    • That’s just silly. It teaching to be responsible, and to know when they are in over there heads, there is always a fail safe. This can help a child out of unwanted sexual situations, were they are feeling cornered or coerced.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Always one in the bunch to poo poo over someone’s suggestion, eh? Don’t like it? Don’t use it. But why be condescending towards it when the suggestion is well intended? Sad.


      • My comment was to Brian. I think the XPlan is a great idea. I grew up with the security of knowing i could call my mom any time to pick me up if something happened. My best friend didnt…. The difference it made were life altering.


    • Sad that Brian is missing the point. There is strength of character, not weakness, when kids make the decision to extricate themselves from a bad scene in a totally non-confrontational way. Too many social situations have quickly escalated into deadly violence over nothing for years now and no end in sight.


    • They are standing up for themselves and asking for help. If they weren’t then they would just go along with it. Sorry if you think that somehow should look different. Isn’t that what parents are for to help their kids. Hence the word kids. And everyone needs help. Don’t you have friends you help or friends that hy Ave helped you.


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  4. My youngest drove before my oldest did and they kept the same friends. My youngest has a great head on his chest. He knows when to leave. And take whoever wants to go with him. I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up to multiple boys on the floor in my living room. I just started to cook eggs bacon, frozen waffles and pancakes. And juice. And I made sure they all called home.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: X-Plan: Should you have one for your tween, teen? – WRAL.com – Chromobile

  6. Brilliant!
    I commend you as parents. My children and I are very close and I truly believe having a plan…such as this one…can and will save your child’s life. Thank You!


  7. This is a truly inspired idea! Thank you so much for sharing! I do tend to be one of those overprotective parents but I would much prefer giving up my urge to control over my need to keep my kids safe!


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  9. When parents got divorced I had a close relationship with my mother and trust. We had a similar plan & was in a situation with friends and the driver was drunk. Mom always said never go in a car with drunk driver, I’ll come fetch you not matter what time. It turned out to be 3am. I had no control over the situation, but at least I had a back up (X-plan).


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  12. In addition to the X plan, we have the ‘Can I tell you something, this is what you can do with the information’ agreement. My kids can tell me everything they are worried about (even illegal) and say how I am aloud to react. Sometimes they want advise, sometimes they just want to dump their story, sometimes they or their friends are in a bad spot and they want to know what to do. How ever bad the situation is, I never act but just offer my ear and sometimes advise. This might sound as hard, but truly it is fine. Remember you would not have known about it otherwise. Over the year we have talked about stealing, drugs, gambling, sex, abuse, depression, and more. I just give them clues on how to handle the situation and they get too choose if they listen to my advise.
    And if situations are really bad they will start with ‘you can not tell anyone’ and end (and this may take a few days) with ‘can you tell this to the right person that can help or can you help my friend’.


  13. One of the greatest things my parents did for me was to tell me that they would never judge me. They always encouraged me to call if I needed help. Even if I was out at a party and I had a few drinks, I knew I could call my parents and they would come get me and they would not judge me. They did not encourage me to drink, but they did encourage me not to drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. One night I was out with friends at a party. I was probably 17 or so. I drank a lot and I even smoked pot. My friends were all wasted and going to go home. Instead of hopping in the car to continue the night with my friends, I called my daddy. He came and picked me up. He didn’t tell. He didn’t ground me. He came and got me. I asked him was he disappointed that I was so drunk and he said, “Sissy, I’m so glad you didn’t go with the other kids. I’d rather you be a little drunk than to be dead. I don’t want you drinking and I don’t want you to be irresponsible. But baby, you called me tonight instead of driving or riding with someone who was too fucked up to drive. I’m personally proud that you trust me enough and that you are responsible enough to call dad.” I’ll never forget that. They always talked to me about not giving in to peer pressure and that being myself was okay. They knew I was going to make mistakes, but instead of getting angry when I did they just talked to me. It made it so much easier to talk to them. And when I could have tried ecstasy or cocaine I didn’t. And because they talked to me about limits and not being ashamed to say no, I didn’t give in to peer pressure. I called them when I didn’t want to be in a bad situation or I left. Even if I chose to stay, I didn’t try drugs. My parents taught me self worth and morals. It starts with us. Giving our children options and trusting their judgment is important.


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  18. Friends, I wanted to take a moment and thank all of you for the conversations. I sincerely appreciate the honest, respectful sharing of stories, opinions, and ideas. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to every comment–(with this blog, I’m a staff of one). However, please know that your comments have been read. If you want to get in touch with me personally, you can reach me through our ministry – Empty Stone Ministry – online and on Facebook.

    I wrote an updated version of this piece for The Huffington Post and included those updates here.

    Be well, friends.


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  20. Pingback: Plan X… giving your kids a way out. | Nicola Doughty

  21. I think this is a great way to teach young people they have choices in life. Ok if the parents come to the rescue, some young teenagers have not yet developed enough but it can be the thing between a life and death situation. It’s a great way to help young people stay out of trouble. I know of adults who have asked friends to do this for them. It goes to show these teenagers are taking responsibility for themselves. We have to teach our kids we will be there for them no matter what.


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  25. Wonderful strategy, and true pareting with unconditional love. Sadly it is hard for everyone to raise their children in this way, becouse some parents did not develop that love relationshop with themselves, so it is unpossible for them to even see the benefits that parenting this way, can bring.


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  31. We’ve always told our boys the same, call and we will come get you, no questions asked. But recently my oldest chose not to call and learned the hard way that the consequences of drinking and driving are far worse than the consequences of your parents knowing he was too drunk to drive. I would much rather have been awakened at 2am to go get him than awakened at 2am to him crying because he wrecked his vehicle. Hopefully he will never have to use this again but if he does, I hope he will choose to call us!


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  36. This is a really great concept that can be used in so many different scenarios. My13 year old son is special-needs and sometimes finds himself in situations that he is uncomfortable in but doesn’t realize are a potential set up for a bad ending. He is a follower and wants to be liked by his peers. I try to instill right from wrong, but if the scenario in front of him is not identical to one that I have described, he cannot readily identify or foresee a problem; thus, finding himself in many bad situations, without any knowledge or ability to control them.

    Thanks for all the tips and suggestions.


  37. This is a great idea but I do worry a bit for your son now that it’s going viral…likely that his friends will see and crack the code!


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  39. Just taking it a step further and wondering how the child should respond when his friends ask the next day “hey what happened? Why’d you have to leave?”


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