Parenting teens is amazing–and challenging. We want to protect and guide them while giving them the independence they need as they move into adulthood. As parents, we should let them navigate social situations while providing support, often behind the scenes. Listening and communication are some of the most important ways to support our teens. But sometimes, we need to be there for them in discreet ways to allow them to save face when with their peers. Creating a code word to help our kids get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations is one way parents can offer solid support from the sidelines.
How Do Code Words Work?
As our kids get older and spend time in social settings without us, we can help them find safe ways to get out of problematic peer settings. Develop a family code word or phrase and establish that when your child uses it, they need your help getting out of a situation.
A code word allows teens to let parents know they need help while avoiding embarrassment or bullying by their peers. The idea is that when your teen says the word or phrase, you’ll come to pick them up. Make sure that it’s a no-questions-asked/judgment-free commitment. You can talk about the situation later. Getting them out safely is the priority. No questions asked encourages teens to reach out without fear of being punished.
The code word can help even if your teen is driving. For example, a coded text followed by a call can get them out of a tricky situation by letting them “blame” their parents instead of risking their social standing by saying they don’t want to do something. They can blame you for “making” them check in, leave a party, etc. Some tips for selecting a code word include:
- Create and confirm the code word with your teen ahead of time. Make sure it’s something they are comfortable using.
- Remind them not to share it with their friends.
- Choose something that can be easily added to a conversation but isn’t too obvious, such as a seemingly mundane question chosen in advance.
When Can My Teen Use a Code Word?
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Parent and Teen Communication suggests several situations where teens might choose to call for help using a code word. They include:
- Substance abuse
- Sexual pressure
- A party getting out of hand
Parents can also review MADD’s Contract for Life. This family-focused document asks teens to commit to not driving while impaired or riding with someone else who has been drinking or using drugs. Parents commit to helping them solve the problem in a non-judgmental way by picking them up or finding safe alternate transportation for them at any hour. These agreements can save lives and protect our children’s safety and mental health.
Talking With Your Teen: Your Pediatrician Can Help
Communicating with your teen can be challenging. Parents aren’t perfect, and neither are our kids. But most of us are doing our best to keep our children safe and healthy. Letting your teen know you’re there for them when they need you and keeping interactions judgment free can open the doors to meaningful conversations. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication is an excellent resource. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has helpful tips for communicating with your teen at healthychildren.org.
Your family pediatrician is a terrific resource for both parents and adolescents. Many providers are now specializing in adolescent medicine with a focus on the unique needs of teens. Pediatricians also support parents with resources and referrals. At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, meeting the needs of children and families from birth through the teen years is a priority. We’ve expanded our practice to include adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Lindsay Roach. Dr. Roach specializes in mental healthcare, reproductive health, eating disorder medical support and other teen-focused care. It’s all part of our efforts to support parents and teens in building an atmosphere of respect and trust that helps bring healthy and positive outcomes for all.