The Exit Strategy: a Parental Safety Net

In October of 2010, I took the plunge to follow my call: I left a high-profile country radio morning show in Dallas/Fort Worth to start a life of ministry.

I told my co-hosts first, which was by far the most difficult part. Afterward, I sat in the office of our program director. He looked me square in the eyes and asked me one question.

“Are you sure about this?”

I had never been more certain about anything, save marrying my husband. I nodded and said, “I’m sure.”

“Well then,” he said, leaning back in his chair, “we’ll need to plan your exit strategy.”

Exit strategy:

“a planned approach to terminating a situation in a way that will maximize benefit and/or minimize damage.”

What is common is business could and should be practiced in our parenting.

Your kids need to know that they will find themselves in an uncomfortable and dangerous position at some point. An exit strategy allows them to terminate the situation with the minimal amount of damage to their reputation.

Hazards Ahead

Do your kids have an escape plan? Even as young as five or six, our children experience challenging social situations. Teenagers navigate even rougher waters. With iPhones and social media, gone are the days when we made big mistakes in front of small audiences. Distracted drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers, and the pressure to follow the crowd is as overwhelming for them as it was for us. As parents, we can team up with our kids as silent partners, giving them confidence that they can turn to us when they need a way out of a sticky situation.

When I speak to moms’ groups, I cannot overemphasize the value in setting realistic expectations—for our kids and us. Our children will be exposed to pornography. They will be pressured to smoke, drink, and do drugs. They will be pressured into sexual activity. They will be in a situation where their driver is impaired, and they are forced to make a decision.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves two questions:

Will I allow them to be blindsided?

Will I provide them a way out?

Start Early

We crafted a simple escape plan when my daughter was the tender age of six. Caitlyn was in first grade when she received her first birthday slumber party invitation. I thought she was far too young, but we knew the parents and decided to give it a try. Before we left the house, I gave her the rundown.

“Sweetie, you do not have to spend the night.”

“I want to, Mommy!”

“But if you want to come home, just tell Avery’s mommy that you need to make a phone call.”

“I won’t need to, Mommy.”

“You probably won’t, honey. But here’s the thing—you’ve never slept anywhere but home or Grandma’s house. If you get homesick, it’s okay. I will come and get you.”

Part of the appeal of a parental exit strategy is that it prepares our children for an unfavorable outcome to a favorite activity. I warned my daughter in advance that she might get homesick. If she did, she had a way out.

Tough Times for Tweens

Now my children are nine and ten, and the game has changed a little bit. Caitlyn has a friend who has been exposed to “sexting.” Another one of her friends deleted her Kik Messenger app when a stranger began sending her unwelcome texts. Several weeks ago the school counselor called me to let me know that a classmate of my nine-year-old son’s had explicitly described pornography to Nick and a few other little boys. She was shocked at my response.

“It’s okay,” I said, “We’ve been expecting this.”

“Eh . . . excuse me?”

“Really,” I insisted, “It’s not if they get exposed, it’s when they get exposed.”

I went on to explain to her that I had warned my children several years ago that there would come a day when one of their buddies wanted to show them naughty things on their phones, tablets, or computers.

“When they do,” I said, “you need to excuse yourself and find an adult.”

“Well,” the counselor replied, “that’s exactly what Nick did. He told his friend he had to go to the bathroom and then he told the teacher.”

No Surprise

The Apostle Paul assured the new believers in Corinth that God is a God with an exit strategy.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. —1 Corinthians 10:12–13 NIV

The temptation to follow the crowd is tremendous. Our kids and teens need to know that and to know that we get it. They need to know that they can text us at any time and we will drop what we’re doing and pick them up, no questions asked (at least not immediately). Blogger Bert Fulks, who ministers to teens battling addiction, offers a solution called “The X–Plan” in which the child/tween/teen texts their parent/sibling/friend the letter “x.” Whoever receives the x responds immediately by calling them back. When they answer the phone, the parent/sibling/friend tells them that something has happened and they need to be ready to go in five minutes.

As parents, we don’t want to live in fear, but we do want to walk in wisdom. Our kids need room to make mistakes, but a prudent parent provides a safety net. Offer an escape plan and reward them when they use it. The goal is to raise responsible men and women capable of making wise decisions. Let’s remove as many barriers as we can.

Do you have an exit strategy to share? Was there a time when you wished you or your children had one? Post in the comments and let’s discuss!