A way out of a bad situation
August 8, 2007 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I would appreciate ideas on creating a code word or phrase for my 12 year old son. This code word, when used, indicates that he wants me to get him out of the situation he is in, while maintaining face for him.

My son and I have a very good relationship and we’ve talked a lot about peer pressure. We’re reading a book, (On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer) in which the protagonist, a 12 year old boy, reluctantly goes along with a dangerous idea due to peer pressure. The 12 year old narrator explains repeatedly that he wants his parents to deny him permission to do this activity, because he knows it’s dangerous, but he doesn’t want his friends to think he’s wimpy.

Adults frequently have code phrases, or pre-planned cell phone calls to extricate them from situations. Ideally, once he uses the phrase, I would try to talk privately with him to make sure of what he needs, but if that doesn’t work, I would invent an urgent task that must be done or just flat out refuse permission. I know that it’s better for his own self-efficacy for him to be able to stand up and say “I don’t want to do that” but we all know that there are times, especially in adolescence, when peer pressure is more important than standing your own ground.

What would be a good phrase or word for a 12 year old to indicate he wants out of the situation? I’m also open to suggestions for improving the “rescue process”. Thanks in advance.
posted by aliksd to Human Relations (38 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
John George Peppers
posted by neilkod at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2007

"Tippie toe! Tippie toe!" (just kidding)

When he actually wants to do something, have him ask "can I do X?"

When he wants you to say no, have him ask "may I do X?" Have him throw in a please or two to emphasize how badly he wants you to say no.
posted by The World Famous at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2007

How about a grammatical shift? (colloquial to correct)

Can me and joey go to lazer tag? - Genuinely wants to go.

Can joey and I go bungee jumping? - Wants you to give him an out.
posted by phrontist at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2007

How about something like dental appointment? Say he is out with his friends who want to do something stupid. He says to his friends, "I'm going to call home to see if I can stay out later." He then calls you and asks permission to stay out, "even though he has a dental appointment tomorrow." In which case you "refuse" and tell him that he has to be home right away.

"Sorry guys, my stupid parents say I have to get home."
posted by Pollomacho at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Have him address you in a way he usually doesn't: "Mama" or "Mother", for example instead of "Mom" or "Mommy."
posted by vacapinta at 9:46 AM on August 8, 2007

I think the grammar shift might be too subtle. I like it and I've used it with adults, but you're dealing with a not-quite-teenager, you might want something bigger, like prefacing the question with a made-up chore: "I weeded the herb garden, so can I go to this party in the orange grove and shoot off homemade fireworks on Friday with my friends?" "If I wax the car, can I go hunting with Jake?"
posted by crush-onastick at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you have a pet? It might get weird if he ends up constantly asking about the dentist, but if he asks something like Pollomancho states above, but to do w/ feeding the dog or changing the litterbox, then it will be more every-day.

"Hey dad, can I go to x with Jimmy?" = I want to actually do this.

"Hey dad. I know I have to walk Buster tonight, but can I go to x with Jimmy?" = Please tell me no.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Assuming this is all done over the phone, why not just tell him he can blame you whenever he wants? Why do you have to be in on it? If he is with his friends, and they want to go buy some crack, and he wants an out, he says "I have to call my dad and ask if it's OK" and then when he gets off the phone all he's got to say is "damnit, my dad said I have to come home" whether you actually said that or not.
posted by jckll at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2007

Seconding the "call you something different" approach since it works in person, and on the phone. As a kid, my mother knew that if I called her "mom" instead of "oma" something was up.
posted by sephira at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2007

Totally great idea. I third the "call you something different". I also had a code word with my parents in the event that someone had to pick me up from school whom I didn't know and I was unsure if I should go with them or not. For emergencies and such.
posted by meerkatty at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2007

He could ask you if (insert name here) is still coming to dinner, or if the trip to (insert place) is still on. This includes a built-in excuse to leave when you say yes. You could even have code names for different situations--"Aunt Mary" could mean drugs are being used.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:02 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid and I was around other kids, I'd always say, "Mom, can I talk to you alone for a minute," and then I'd explain things to her. On the phone, she would ask me, "Do you want to do this?" and if I said no she would not give me permission to do it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2007

This is a really, really good idea--Wish I had known about that back when I was younger, could have gotten me out of a few sticky situations. Now, I don't care what my friends think of me if I say no :)

If it's over the phone, I agree with cklennon that you can just tell him to say what he needs to--unless he has to get picked up or something, in which case you would actually need to know where he was and that he was ready to come home.

If it's in person, I would stick to an actual phrase rather than the grammatical change--I'm 18 and I think I would have trouble consistently remembering to say things in a certain way, even at my age. I like the idea of having him call you by a different name, and the chore idea would work too.
posted by DMan at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2007

Forgot to add--the dentist appointment thing would work, one time. If you wanted to use that, you could just talk to him afterwards and set up a new "appointment" for the next instance--like, the first time could be dentist appointment, second could be a general doctor, third could be mowing the lawn, etc.
posted by DMan at 10:09 AM on August 8, 2007

My family's word is "therefor." This is known as a "duress code" in the security world.
posted by djb at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Chef Boyardee"
posted by ageispolis at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2007

Like cklennon said, just let him know he can call and act disappointed even if you say yes and you'll understand that he doesn't want to go.

Him: Can I go out with the guys?
You: Sure, be home at 10.
Him: That's so not fair! I guess I'll be home then.
You: Oh I see, do you need me to come pick you up?

In person, I like adding "Can I go? I'll do the dishes when I come home [instead of now]." so it seems he's trying to go but really that's a signal to you.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2007

These are great ideas! I like the ideas of calling me by a different name, and the different suggestions of adding chores or appointments to what he says. We’ll role-play a few phone conversations, as cklennon and Alongdecember suggested, so that he doesn’t even have to reach me to have me deny permission! Croutonsupafreak, I like your idea—even if he doesn’t remember to suggest it, I’ll try that method out. I always like trying to get him away from the boy gang when something like this comes up so we can talk more honestly.

The great thing about so many responses is that it gives him and me a pool of ideas to draw upon. Please, keep the responses coming! I’ll save this page for the next 5 years!
posted by aliksd at 10:24 AM on August 8, 2007

I think, in addition to the 'codes,' it's important to reinforce that he can always blame you for the reason he isn't doing something.

It might be good, too, to come up with some other 'outs' that don't involve you, either in case it wouldn't make any sense for him to call you (someone whips out a bong at something you've already said he could go to... extreme example for a 12-year-old, but you get the idea), or just in case he doesn't want to look like he always listens to his parents.

Heck, I'm 21 and still use excuses of that sort sometimes. (Don't want to go to a party for someone you don't care for, but that was dumb enough to expect you to come? Go, eat their food, squint and stumble around groaning, throw some small items at people you don't like, and then proclaim that you'd better get home before you throw up on anyone. With a little acting skill, it amounts to free food, one heck of a story, and an easy way out.) I guess timing plays a role here, too: if he always gets sick whenever his friends do something 'bad,' they might catch on... But once or twice and no one would be the wiser.
posted by fogster at 10:42 AM on August 8, 2007

I've done this with my kids. My son uses it mostly when a friend asks to stay the night and he doesn't want them to, but he also doesn't want to be "the bad guy" lol... For us, we just use a different phrasing. If my son wants me to say no, he'll phrase it by indicating that it's what the friend wants: "Mom, [insert friend's name here] wants to know if he can spend the night"... If he wants me to say yes, he asks on behalf of himself: "Mom, can I have [friend's name] spend the night?"... It's subtle enough that the friends are none-the-wiser.
posted by amyms at 10:46 AM on August 8, 2007

I'm going to disagree with both your idea and most of what's been proposed here and say that this:

"I know that it’s better for his own self-efficacy for him to be able to stand up and say “I don’t want to do that” but we all know that there are times, especially in adolescence, when peer pressure is more important than standing your own ground."

is the only way he's going to learn how to effectively deal with peer pressure. Your son doesn't need you to provide excuses for him why he can't do something; he needs to learn to be able to say it himself and be comfortable doing so. Moreover, when someone in his clique says, "Aw, c'mon, do you always do what your parents tell you? Sheesh!" his excuse of asking his parents for permission or whatever pretty much falls flat.

The better strategy is to role-play with him and have him stand up for himself with phrases like, "Hey, that looks like fun, but I'll sit back here and call the ambulance while you jump off the bridge." You can pose all sorts of scenarios and role-play them so he'll have an effective arsenal and armor against peer pressure, but for god's sake, let him learn how to deal with and stand up to peer pressure on his own.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

Great idea, great thread. This is what AskMe is for!

How about just "add a chore or appointment to the request to get an automatic no"? Could be as vague as "I know we have that thing tomorrow, but..."

Also, a slight derail -- growing up my brother and I had a code phrase we could give our parents that meant we were absolutely telling the full and complete truth. Of course, we could have used the phrase in a lie, but if we were ever caught out, it would mean unimaginable punishment and loss of the powerful phrase forever. It came in very handy, and I know I never abused it, nor did my brother.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2007

My mom gave me permission to blame her anytime I wanted to get out of a situation. I would just basically say that my parents won't let me or would kill me if I did this, or I had to do XYZ, or whatever other reason (grounded me because my room hadn't been cleaned or I did something wrong was a good one - and true on enough occasions that no one was the wiser).

One time I didn't feel like going on a roadtrip to a concert with some friends. I told my mom and she said I could tell them she said I couldn't go. So I blamed it on her and my friends were fine with it after some initial pleading. They got in a major accident on the way there that put one of my best friends in the ICU for at least a week. Because of the conditions of the accident, the biggest impact was exactly the spot I normally sat in during our car rides. I would not be alive today if I hadn't been comfortable using her as my "out" since I felt it was uncool to bail on my own.

I think what you're doing is great, and I'm glad your son recognizes the importance of it.
posted by ml98tu at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2007

In a slightly different vein, please make sure he knows that you will always come to get him, no questions asked, if he's in a situation and he needs to get out. When I was about 15, my friend's birthday party was broken up when her mother caught some people using drugs. Most of the partygoers ended up wandering around the neighborhood, continuing to smoke pot, but I had no interest in joining them. I called my mother, who came to get me, and she ended up hauling 3 of my friends home also -- kids who wanted to get out of there, but hadn't wanted to call their parents and try to explain. I had nothing to hide from my mother in that case, but I was much more likely to make the call because I knew I wasn't going to get into trouble for it.
posted by katemonster at 11:15 AM on August 8, 2007

In a slightly different vein, please make sure he knows that you will always come to get him, no questions asked, if he's in a situation and he needs to get out. When I was about 15, my friend's birthday party was broken up when her mother caught some people using drugs. Most of the partygoers ended up wandering around the neighborhood, continuing to smoke pot, but I had no interest in joining them. I called my mother, who came to get me, and she ended up hauling 3 of my friends home also -- kids who wanted to get out of there, but hadn't wanted to call their parents and try to explain. I had nothing to hide from my mother in that case, but I was much more likely to make the call because I knew I wasn't going to get into trouble for it.

Agreed wholeheartedly. I remember a few times when I was a teenager calling my parents because I really needed to get out of some situation I had gotten myself into, and knowing I could do that because they had told me exactly the same thing your parents told you.

Ultimately, as a parent, it comes down to valuing the safety and wellbeing of your child more than your ability/right/need to discipline them for their wrongdoing. Even into my later teen years, I recall a few times when I called my mom or dad and asked them to come pick me up from a friend's house, or a bar, or whatever, because I had driven there but didn't feel safe driving home. It was a great asset, and even though my parents never scolded me for it, I knew that if I took advantage of it they would start to ask those questions they never did because I only used it sparingly, when I really needed some help.
posted by jckll at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2007

I think the easiest thing to do would be for you to make the call and him make the response. Whenever he wants to do something, ask him whether he did X today. Homework wouldn't work, because often friends would know if he did it or even had it for a specific class. Chores, however, will work.

For example:
"Can I go with my friends to shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die?"
"Did you remember to mow the grass and pick up the clippings?"

If the response is yes, let him go. If the response is no, deny him permission. If the reponse is "I forgot all about that", tell him you are picking him up immediately since he has been forgetting it all week. This provides easy cover, and a way to know if he is in some trouble at the moment.

This, I feel, would work much better than having him initiate the call since a normal kid would probably not mention a chore, hoping his parents would forget about it.
posted by Loto at 11:34 AM on August 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

To follow up on katemonster and cklennon, one of my uncles told me that if I evern needed to talk to him about something that I felt I couldn't go to my parents about, I could call him. I never needed it, but it felt good having the safety line there. Every teenager should have at least one non-judgemental adult in their life.
posted by happyturtle at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2007

Djb, thanks for giving me the correct word. The security perspective gives us another way to think about this.

Ageispolis, your word is simple and not likely to come up in normal conversations. We’ll definitely use that (and probably therefore) as code words indicating some kind of situation. Amys, your grammer change is easy to remember and more honest than many social lies. I like how it can open a discussion about what he wants to do vs what his friends want to do.

We have been role-playing different ways of saying no for the past year and he’s actually using some of what we practiced. You’re right, fogster, we need to continue to expand his ability to get out of hot spots without blaming his parents.

Fandango_matt, I agree that the optimal method is for him to be able to stand up by himself against peer pressure. I just like having alternatives for less than optimal situations.

Ml98tu, your story gave me chills. I can’t comprehend what it must have been like for you to have narrowly escaped that.

Katemonster, thanks so much for reminding me to discuss this with him. I will remind him periodically that if he needs to be picked up, no questions asked, I will do so.

Loto, I laughed so much at your example question that my son came over to see what I was reading! I also thought it might be a problem for him to bring up chores in front of his friends. Your way avoids that issue.
posted by aliksd at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2007

I don't have a specific suggestion, but your duress code should work even out of context, so one based on asking permission isn't so good. Here's why:

Buddies: hey, let's go rob a quick-e-mart
Son: let me call my mom and ask.

Doesn't work so well. But

Buddies: same thing
Son: Ok. Oh wait, hold on. My mom's expecting a call, so I need to do that first.
Son on phone: Hey Mom, yeah, nothing going on here. Just checking in. Also, code phrase.
You: get home immediately (or I'll be right there, etc.)
Son, off phone: Rats. I have to go home. Maybe another time on the criminal activity, eh?
posted by ctmf at 1:51 PM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

All these things will work great until he's old enough or has bad enough friends that they say

"DUDE are you gonna listen to her? Let's GO!" or "Don't bother calling, if she needs you she'll call you."

I think that this is very much encouraging your son to be a follower instead of a leader, and I think that's a slippery slope. I think that 12 is certainly old enough to learn that some things in life just suck, and we have to take the good, and take the bad, and take the rest and then we'll have the facts of life.

If it's truly bad enough, I'm quite sure he's savvy enough to text a simple "911" to mommy dearest and thus she calls him immediately.
posted by TomMelee at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2007

one word of caution.......
if your son is going to call you and you're going to say something that shouldn't be heard by the friends i.e. "so you want me to come and get you?"... then if it's a mobile/celll phone, you'll most likely be able to be heard by the friends.

the nature of most mobile phones is that you can still hear the person on the phone, often from across the room, if it's quiet.

much like you can hear ipods in other peoples ears.

in fact, everyone should remember that.
i have caught people out on that a number of times.

all the best.
posted by taff at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2007

At school I used to be called "The Spectator" or "The Non-Participator" for my unwillingness to get involved in stupid activities.

For example, if my friends were going to climb over the fence of a 30 ft high slide to skateboard down it (true story), I'd just say, "I'll stay here". Or if they were going to climb into someone's garden climb onto their porch and knock on a bedroom window before jumping off and running away (99% of the time this was done to people we knew), then I'd just sit it out.

I looked "uncool" sometimes, but I couldn't have cared less. When I was happy to do something then I'd just do it. If I was asked to do something/go somewhere and didn't want to say "I don't want to", I could just make something up.

Past excuses were along the lines of:

"Sorry, I've got X tomorrow"
"Sorry, but I've got to get home"
"Ah I dunno, I've got X to do [now]"

I say just have the willpower to say no to activities you don't want to do. Short term credibility may suffer, long term preparedness to deal with things life throws improves.
posted by knapah at 3:00 PM on August 8, 2007

have him text you a code word. then you can call and say it's time to come home, no ifs ands or buts.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2007

If you're going to go the code-word route that's a very good idea thinkingwoman.
posted by knapah at 3:47 PM on August 8, 2007

My mom always told me to blame her when I didn't want to do something. When I was 16 and would go out, I had friends who wanted to smoke (just cigarettes) in my car, and I really didn't want them to... "Sorry, this car's in my parents' name and they'd kill me." My mom was always happy to take the blame. :)
posted by IndigoRain at 8:42 PM on August 8, 2007

My folks always had this sort of system set up. There would usually be some sort of set time to call by (usually about 10pm or so) and if I hadn't called by then to check in and give a-ok on the situation, they'd call and check in.

But definitely the pickup at any point in time without any questions certainly saved my ass numerous times.

(As far as code words go, at my place of employment when a prick comes in, we use 'do we have a winner?')
posted by sperose at 11:03 PM on August 8, 2007

I had something like this when I was growing up. Usually I'd just throw in an extra "You sure, Mom?" when it didn't quite make sense, and she'd know something was going on.

Seconding the warning about phones being loud enough other people can hear.

I don't think this tactic ruined my ability to deal with peer pressure.
posted by adamwolf at 6:14 AM on August 9, 2007

Just going to tack on with the "Non-judgemental adult" situation. This really is a great thing to have. My half brother (ten years my senior) told me the day before I entered high school
"Look, there's some crazy shit out there, and you might have already encountered some of it, and you might want to try some of it out or whatever. That's your deal. I know mom and your dad aren't exactly cool on that kind of thing, but if you're ever in a situation and you need out, or you need help, or you need a sober ride home, or whatever, just call me and let me know. No questions, and mom won't ever know about it unless you tell her."

If the kid has an uncle, godfather, or similar in town, see if you can't set up a NQA safety line for your kid. Realize, however, that you can never ask them or know if the safety line has been pulled, and the kid can't know you're in on this seemingly unsolicited offer of help.

Also, in the best case scenario, it should be a very intimidating person, because part of this "help get you out of any bad situation" for your son is the potential to back him up in a fight situation. (which is actually the only one time I ever called my brother. The time when I needed a 300+ pound, 6'5" guy who was a bouncer through college to come and intimidate a rather drunk asshole so said asshole would stop trying to pick a fight with every single one of my friends.)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:09 AM on August 10, 2007

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