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“Our job as parents is to first and foremost be the safety raft for our kids in the moment. No questions asked.” 

It’s important for a teenager to feel like they have a way out if they find themselves in a bad situation. It is also important for a teenager to not feel pressured into staying or that they are snitching on their peers. Having a simple “secret code” to text or a word to say, gives them a way to get out while saving face. It can be as black and white as not wanting to get in a car with a peer who has been drinking or a more nuanced situation, where your kid feels unwanted advances from someone and needs a quick exit strategy.

To have open communication with your teen requires a high level of trust between parent and teen. As parents, understanding that these situation may be tricky is key in having your teen feel like you are on their side. Our job as parents is to first and foremost be the safety raft for our kids in the moment. No questions asked. By determining a specific code that can be either a verbal cue or a simple text word, symbol or emoji, the message can inconspicuously broadcast to the parent with no attention drawn to your teen.

It’s important to understand that in order for your teen to place their trust in you, we must be coming from a non-judgmental place and have a mutual trust and understanding. The fact that your teen can feel safe in looking to you in difficult situations is key, even if they had been doing something they should not have. The more important thing is that they are making the right choice by leaving the situation. In handling the immediate circumstance, keep perspective. The most important thing is getting them to safety as soon as possible. Thank your teen for their trust in you. Save punishments or reprimands for a larger conversation later.

So set up a code that is simple and private and cannot be misconstrued between you. Kids see each other’s texts all the time over shoulders so make it fairly benign. A specific animal emoji or a simple X can convey volumes. If it is in a spoken conversation it can be the use of a simple word or phrase, like “I’ll walk the dog tomorrow.” Or “Did I leave my house key at home?” or any simple innocuous sounding phrase that would blend into a normal conversation but is code for, “pick me up now.”

This gives the kid an out without shame or ridicule from their peers. Peer Pressure can be a huge component for making bad decisions. Giving kids a free safety net can save them from serious trouble as well as provide a necessary bridge of trust between you.

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