Be the Scapegoat: Develop a Code Word

Part of helping keep teens safe is knowing when to help. When teens are in dangerous or uncomfortable situations, parents can act as scapegoat. Together teens and parents can develop a code word to be used when they need to be picked up, no matter what. This code word or phrase could be anything, such as “How is Aunt Julie feeling?” that signals that teens need help right away.  Parents can respond with, “Not well, I need you to come home. How about if I pick you up now?”

Discuss options that your family is comfortable with and come up with a concrete plan. Write down the code word or phrase and share it with others who can also give your teen, when in an unsafe situation, a ride home.

It’s also a good idea to discuss some potential risky situations in which a scapegoat-parent could be useful. Developing a code word to keep teens stay safe can help them from being embarrassed in front of their friends. These include situations where alcohol or drugs are involved, as well as riding as a passenger with a newly licensed driver.

Teens may want to do the right thing, but peer pressure can make it difficult. Parents can help by picking them up immediately when they are texted the code word or called with the code word.

Parents need to remember that the code word is in place for safety, not to criticize teens’ judgment. If parents overreact, teens may not reach out again to be picked up by a safe driver. When safely home, discuss strategies for avoiding similar scenarios in the future. Create a new code word to use, if needed, in the future.

Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) offers a Contract for Life that promises the teen, both as driver or passenger, will call or text home for a safe ride instead of getting into a car when the driver could be intoxicated, high, or tired, which is very dangerous. Families may want to consider using this contract to encourage use of a code word when needed.

Watch this video to improve communication with your teen:


In 2021, 27% of young drivers (ages15-20) involved in fatal crashes had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .01 g/dL or higher; 22% of those young drivers had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher.