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

  1. Pingback: Good parenting at fishiefishies

  2. This has really opened my eyes. As a young adult who never was able to have that way out (mostly because parent needed to know details) and who is currently regretting not exploring the world a bit more (good not bad), I honestly wish my family had this. I was so scared that I would be punished that I made horrible decisions that ended up leaving horrible consequences that I have to live with every day. If more parents used this it would mean the world to so many kids out there and help them grow so much more than having the regrets that would come out otherwise. Trust needs to be built on rather than expected.


  3. My parents had something like this pre-cell phone. If we were somewhere (usually at school) we’d call the house, let it ring once and hang up. Then we’d call right back, let it ring once and hang up again. That was our code. My mom also said she would be our excuse if we didn’t want to do something (she’d be the bad guy). For example, “My mom said I can’t come/do that/etc.” I used that one even when my mom said I could’ve done it, I just didn’t want to and it was my out. 🙂 So in any age, parents can find a way that works for their family.


  4. Pingback: X-PLAN : GIVING YOUR KIDS A WAY OUT (#XPLAN) - SoberInfo

  5. So the plan is for the teen to text X, which is code for “pretend to insist I come home so my friends don’t think I want out” and the message is to share the plan… wouldn’t that defeat the object because the teen’s friends would know it was a fake call from Dad?


    • Yes, because every teenager I have ever known spent endless hours trawling parenting sites looking for ways to prevent their friends from communicating with their parents.


    • 1) How would their friend know they sent that text to one of their parents unless the friend got hold of the phone and was looking through their texts? I can’t imagine that a kid who’s nervous enough to want out of the situation would let someone else take their phone, especially while they’re waiting for a call.

      2) You know it’s possible to delete individual text messages from a thread, right? If the kid thinks their friends will see the text later on and ask questions, they can just get rid of it as soon as they know it worked.


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  7. Pingback: X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out – Mama's Got This

  8. This reminds me of my youth. While my family didn’t have a set plan like this, I always knew I could call and asked to be picked up from anywhere. As we didn’t have cell phones back then, you’d usually do this from a payphone. I already trusted my parents and knew they trusted me.

    But also. One of my high school teachers gave us each a quarter with a little paint on it so we’d recognize it was the one he gave us. He told us to keep the quarter at all times, and if we were ever in a situation we wanted to get out of, we could call him. He said he or his wife would pick us up, no questions asked. He said he wouldn’t tell our parents where we’d been. Now, some parents might not like that last part, but I know at least one student took him up on it. That kid would have stayed in a bad situation without that quarter and that promise. Instead, he left before things got worse.

    And for me, while I never ended up in a situation where I needed to use it, I cherished that quarter. I never felt trapped. I remember one place I got a little worried and my first thought was I could call my parents — or, if I was too nervous for that — call that teacher and no questions would be asked. I had a way out.

    That knowledge alone made it easier to really assess the situation I was in.


  9. Pingback: A closer look at the “X-Plan” for parents and kids | WFLA.com

  10. Thank you for the wise “The X plan” as it was shared with me by a co-worker. I still have young kids but I am certain this will be a powerful tool in the shaping of strong an =d confident young girls once the situation comes up!


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  13. My Dad gave me this gift as a kid. Just one more thing I totally respect him for. I remember a time that it kept me out of a car with a drunk driver.


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  15. Wow!! This is great info… I’m a Mother of two one Boy oldest and one Daughter youngest. I often find myself wondering how can I help them without actually being everywhere at the same time?.. This is a great plan!! I will begin using this asap… thank you and this may have already saved so many children 💕 God Bless you


    • My mother did this with me after she found 2,000 ecstasy pills in my closet. Previously, she would smell my fingers, smell my breath, check my pockets, and monitor me each time I got home on the weekend. That only made me become sneaky and good at keeping stuff from her. (Hence the thousands of ecstasy pills I was selling wholesale at the age of 16/17) after she found those we had a different relationship and completely changed her approach to one where I could share things without getting in trouble etc. I would share things with her unsolicited at that point and it changed our relationship for the better. It actually made us a lot closer and even today I still share things with her. Highly recommend this type of relationship if you value knowing what your kids are up to rather than having then become good at keeping it from you.


  16. This is a great plan wish I would have seen this when my daughter got into trouble with the law because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time then maybe she would have not got into trouble. I think I am going to use this on my other little girl when she gets older.


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  19. Love this plan and have already shared this with both my children. Any advice or experience with what they tell the friends the next day when they ask what happened at home?


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  25. I am a producer for FOX 35 in Orlando. I love your X-Plan! I would love to have you on our morning show to talk about it. Please email me and let me know if you’re interested. I’m hoping to do this on Friday, March 17th. I was thinking maybe a Skype interview if you are interested. Thanks!


  26. I am a disabled senior citizen with three kids and four grandkids..I have struggled with addiction for 50 years, My kids and grandkids have and still are struggling with addiction. We have been to many meetings of recovery resulting in various outcomes. Addiction is a horrible reality. Your plan sounds good but my worry is that not enough parents are evolved enough to follow this plan. Thanks for letting me share.


  27. This a very touching article and I am sharing it on Facebook. As I think back I realize part of not having a good support system when I was young is we “had Not the convenience of cell phones.” it might have made a difference in my life. Maybe would have spared me years,,no DECADES of putting myself in risky situations where even if I felt uncomfortable I seemingly had No way out.
    Some great ideas presented here…. Kudos and best of luck. Also thank you for posting.


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  40. This was a great interesting article, It makes me change my thought on how to deal with different situations with my kids in the future. I use to be bad on drugs and ive been in placement this time for 10 months. I feel like if my parents would have thought of something like this i would have been better off and things that has happen would not have happend. So reading this really makes me open my eyes and It gives my ideas to use for my kids one day in the future.
    Thank you .


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  42. Hi
    I think this a fantastic idea. I know a lot of my sons friends go to parties particularly the ‘cool’ kids’. I have been waiting for this day to arrive and it did… So I said yes but remember you have a rugby match the following day and need a clear head and can’t let your team mates down. It was clear that we would drop off and pick up and to the horror of my husband I agreed he could take some alcohol with him. As I explained he would be taking beer that we had purchased, low alcohol volume and would hopefully not be blagging drinks off other people. We also explained the dangers of mixing drinks and keeping his drink safe so that it isnt spiked.
    Result.. No arguments or a teenage tantrum and the party was called off.
    I know another one will be on the horizon and will definitely be introducing the x-plan, sooner rather than later.


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