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Create a Code Word to Help Teens Out of Sticky Situations

teen texting.jpgHere are two realities of teen life:

1. They end up in sticky situations. Between peer pressure, impulsivity, inexperience and the occasional bad luck, it's not uncommon for teens to find themselves someplace they would rather not be. It might just be a really boring party that they can't easily leave, but it might be something worse. It could be a situation where they feel bullied or threatened. It could be a party where people are drinking or using drugs; sometimes teens know that's going to happen and decide they want out, and sometimes it's a surprise.

2. It's awkward, scary and sometimes downright hard to get out of those situations. Parents can often be helpful--but it's not always straightforward to call your mom or dad when you are surrounded by drunk people. Besides the fact that it's embarrassing, it's hard to know how a parent will react.

So here's what I suggest to teens (and tweens) and their parents: have a code word (an idea I learned from Deborah Gilboa). It can be anything. Something ordinary is likely best--something like "tree" or "door" or whatever. Whenever a teen is in one of those sticky situations, he or she can text the code word to a parent (or other designated person).

The code word says: I need you to get me out of this situation. And I need you to not judge me, at least not right this second.

When the parent gets the text, they call the teen and say something like, "Hey, didn't you remember that Aunt Gertrude is coming over?" and demand that the teen come home. You can even add something to the text (e.g. "big tree") so that the parent knows not only to demand that the teen come home, but to come pick them up, too (as Aunt Gertrude can't stay long).

The teen gets out of the sticky situation--and saves face.

If you really want this to work, and you want the teen to do it again, try to hold off on the third degree in the moment. You can certainly ask some basic questions--and if they seem hurt or high or otherwise in possible need of medical attention, it would be a good idea to ask more than just basic questions. But if they seem normal, leave it be unless they want to talk.

You don't have to let them entirely off the hook. You can and should talk with them. But do it when you can both be calm, and try to temper your reaction and any punishment. Remember that they made the choice to get out of the situation--and the choice to call you. These are good choices, ones they should get credit for.

It's hard being a teen--and it's hard having one. Teens need independence, that's normal and good (and how they learn to be adults), but they also need their parents. The challenge comes in figuring out the balance--for both of you.

The code word can help. Give it a try.

Photo credit: 2012 Summer Skyes 11, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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