Assessing the ‘X-Plan’ – Giving Your Kids a [Better] Way Out

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letter-oOver the past few months a well-meaning article suggesting a way for parents to help their children escape peer pressure has become moderately popular. The article is called “X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan).”

The goal of the article is offer aid to the many teenagers who are faced with uncomfortable situations that they can’t see a way out of. They’re at a party, friends are offering them alcohol or drugs, and they don’t know how to respond without – as Mr. Fulks would say – castrating themselves socially. They want to keep their friends, but they don’t want to give in. This is the dilemma the X-Plan has been fashioned to resolve, a “simple, but powerful tool” that is a “lifeline” the author’s kids are free to use at any time.

The way it works is basically this: Brian (hypothetical name) is at a party and feels uncomfortable or pressured to do something he doesn’t want to do. All Brian has to do is text ‘X’ to a family member, and they will call him and pretend an emergency has come up. Brian can then tell his friends that he has to leave to tend to said emergency, and thereby gets to leave the party while at the same time saving face.
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Win-win, everybody goes home happy. He can tell his parents what happened or not, no pressure, no judgement, no further questions.
Originally, that’s where the article left it. It received some criticism – rightfully so – and has since been edited to give cursory answers to those objections: doesn’t this teach the kid not to be able to stand up to others? what if it becomes habitual? if it isn’t talked about how are they to learn? shouldn’t there be consequences?
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The first two objections are those I see as being the most pivotal, and damning, to seeing the X-Plan as anything more than one-time absolute fail-safe for when a kid is facing something truly beyond any potential ability for them to handle it, a true “the $#!% just hit the fan” kind of situation.
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To the objection of “what if it becomes habitual,” Mr. Fulks responds merely that “If you’re regularly rescuing your kid, hopefully your family is having some conversations about that.” But isn’t the X-Plan set up to be more than a one-time thing? If you kid has friends who are likely to put him in this situation, he’s probably going to be seeing them habitually; they’re going to hang out, drugs and alcohol are going to be regular occurrences, and he’s going to be put in those corners regularly and the article assumes that he doesn’t know how to deal with this (hence the need for ‘X’).
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Thus, the key concern here should be that they’re not gonna get this pressure just one or two or even three or ten times. They’re probably gonna get this pressure every time they go hang out with their friends. They’re going to get this pressure at least once or twice a week if they’re like I was in high school.
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Quite simply, the ‘something happened at home’ shtick can’t work every other weekend, but that’s how often your kids are going to face this pressure.
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The X-Plan is certainly an interesting fail-safe for certain instances and has some good principles, but it can’t work as a standard or even semi-standard way of dealing with peer pressure (which is what it seems to present itself as, as something that can happen many times over and build trust between parent and child).
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This brings us to the primary issue with this plan, and that is that it fosters avoidance and escapist solutions to problems.
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Eventually, your kids are just gonna have to realize that saying “no” is in fact a very simply ‘way out’. They’ll get some flack, but their friends will still be their friends.
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Sure, they might have to say ‘no’ more than once. I had to decline that pressure dozens upon dozens of times growing up, often dozens of times in a span of five minutes if my friends were feeling particularly adamant. So did my other friends who didn’t smoke, do drugs, or drink. We were still good friends with those who did those things, and they still constantly tried to get us to do it too, but ‘no’ is in the end the best “way out” (and one that will encourage them to face their problems head-on rather than trying to avoid them).
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Mr. Fulks responds to this sort of objections by pointing out how “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.”
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Indeed, it’s probably the adults who avoided every problem growing up who can’t stand up to others now. Mr. Fulks wants to assure his readers that it’s simply a safe way out while you continue to help them learn how to stand up to others, but standing up to others is best done by being forced to do it.
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Instead of telling them to avoid their problems, simply let them know what expectations you have before hand. If you’ve raised your child well up to that point, that’ll be enough. ‘No’ does in fact work.
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Don’t wait till they’re a teenager going out to parties to start trying to nourish these skills and qualities. Don’t wait till they’re in the fire to start trying to teach them that they can trust you, to start trying to teach them that you’re not judgmental.
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Nourish those skills from childhood, feed their identity from the earliest days, create a relationship of trust from the cradle, so that when they get into these situations as a teenager they will be able to handle them in stride; then, if they happen to fail, continue to teach them, continue to stand beside them, and continue to lovingly push them towards maturity.

 

 

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