Giving Your Teenager a Way Out: Teach Them The XPlan

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By Sarah Kupferschmidt, M.A., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

I recently read about something developed by Bert Fulks called the XPlan. By now you may also have heard about the XPlan and if you haven’t you can read more about it here. The XPlan is all about empowering your teenager with a safe way to get themselves out of uncomfortable and/or even dangerous situations. Essentially, the XPlan outlines a chain of behaviours that a teenager can follow if they encounter a situation that they would like to leave or get out of without risking his/her social status. All that they need to do is text the letter “x” to someone that they trust or have discussed the x plan with. The person could be a parent, a guardian or a sibling. All that matters is that the person who receives the text with the “x” from the teenager will respond consistently. The response to the “x” is to call the teenager immediately and say the following script:

Parent – “hello? Something has come up and I have to come and get you right now.”

Teenager – “what happened?”

Parent – I will tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes, I am on my way”

Here are some things to keep in mind if you are going to teach your teenager to use the XPlan:

1. Talk about the details

As a family, decide who will be included in the script. In the original article it was parents and a sibling that may be asked to follow the script. Include as many or as little people as you feel necessary. The script offered by Bert Fulks is a great idea but it may be tweaked to suit your unique situation. Decide what will work best for you and write it down so that it is clearly stated with no room for subjective interpretation. It should be clear to everyone involved, exactly what each person’s role is and what they will do and/or say.

2. Rehearse it

Once you have written it down then practice it at home. Each person should take a turn until they can do it with no hesitation. Practice makes perfect so keep practicing until everyone is comfortable. Every few weeks do a quick refresher to make sure everyone is still clear on his/her role(s)

3. Make it worthwhile

As with any new skill it is critical that we maximize the power of reinforcement to strengthen it. This may be particularly difficult for some parents when you consider the context in which this skill is needed. As Bert Fulks emphasizes, if your teenager reaches out with the XPlan, it is not the time to get into a discussion about his/her whereabouts and/or punish him/her. This will lead to them not bothering to use the XPlan in the future. Instead, make a deal with them that there is no judgment and/or punishment for implementing the XPlan. Praise them for using the XPlan and be genuine.

Teenagers may encounter dangerous situations and find it difficult to advocate for themselves in certain contexts due to the presence of his/her peers. The XPlan is designed to give teenagers a way out of uncomfortable and/or even dangerous situations in the presence of his/her peers AND that lets them save face at the same time.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments so please let me know what you think in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

For related reading:

Steward, K.K., Carr, J.E., & LeBlanc, L.A. (2007). Evaluation of family-implemented behavioural skills training for teaching social skills to a child with asperger’s disorder. Clinical Case Studies, 6, 252-262.

Sarah Kupferschmidt, MA, BCBA realized that Behaviour Analysis was her calling when she first started working with children and teenagers with autism in 1999. She is very passionate about empowering others with the most effective tools to teach children and teenagers. She has been training clinicians, and coaching parents on how to do this since she started. She has been a Part-Time or Adjunct Professor since 2005 teaching ABA courses in undergraduate, and graduate programs in Canada and the USA. Sarah also regularly presents workshops to parents and teenagers with autism, therapists and/or educators on a variety of topics related to improving the quality of life for individuals with autism using evidence-based procedures. Sarah is the Principal and Founder of SarahK Consulting. She is a Huffington Post Contributor, a TEDx speaker, and was named Top Safety Contributor for Autism Parenting Magazine in 2014 and Top Behavior Analysis Writer for 2015. You can contact her at sarah.kupferschmidt@gmail.com.

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