Challenge Your Students with

by Charis Denison


This is #1 of an ongoing series of discussion starters from the case files of Charis Denison. The situations presented are very real and are changed monthly. Please try them out with your students and share your results with us. You can find the complete archive list here.

(present this to your students)

Jeff and his best friend, Steven go to different high schools. They’ve been friends since third grade, but since Jeff transferred to another school for 10th grade, they’ve started to grow apart.

One Saturday, Steven asked Jeff if he would drive him into the nearest city. He didn’t have his license yet and said he thought it would be fun for them to hang out. Jeff felt uncomfortable saying yes because he’d only had his license for six months and his parents told him he wasn’t allowed to drive into the city yet. But, Steven said that he wouldn’t be able to go without Jeff’s help and they never got to see each other anymore. Jeff agreed and they left that afternoon after telling Jeff’s parents they were driving to another friend’s house.

When they got to the city, Steven asked Jeff to drive across town to a particular address. When they arrived, Steven asked Jeff to wait in the car while he ran inside for a few minutes. After Steven returned to the car Jeff asked what was going on and Steven pulled out a bag of white powder. He admitted it was his drug connection and that the powder was crystal meth. When Jeff asked him why he didn’t tell him that was why they came to the city. Steven said he didn’t tell him because he figured Jeff wouldn’t go.

That night Jeff couldn’t sleep because he felt overwhelmed by what he had found out. He knew meth was no good and that Steven would continue using it with or without his help. He was angry that Steven had put him in the position of driving with an illegal substance, but even more importantly, he was worried about his friend.

Jeff had promised Steven he wouldn’t tell anyone about all this but it was driving him crazy. He had a teacher at school he really liked and trusted. He wanted to go to him and ask his advice. But what if the teacher decided to turn in his best friend? Jeff was torn about being loyal and how best to protect Steven.

(this is for you)

This case brings to the surface one of the most important aspects of teenage-hood. No matter how good a job adults do communicating with teens, or how close teens are to their parents, teachers, or coaches, their most important loyalty and connection is to their peers. In order to exert influence on teens we need to work creatively and diligently because even if that influence from peers is negative it is still, at crucial times, more powerful than an adult’s. That is why a teenager could know that a friend is in terrible danger but still be hesitant to go to an adult and betray that friend’s trust and loyalty. It is imperative that the teen in conflict be reminded, challenged, and encouraged to see the larger picture of what is important about being a friend and what it means, ethically, to care about someone.

The other idea this story emphasizes is that the only power we have is over ourselves. Teens often feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility and frequently don’t know what they are supposed to take on and what they aren’t. Jeff can’t control Steven but he can protect his relationship with his own parents and keep himself out of jail or harm’s way. Also, it is never a teenager’s responsibility to shoulder the knowledge that a friend could be in danger by him or herself. How would they feel if something terrible happened to their friend and they didn’t ask for help?

(also, debate topics, writing assignments, etc.)

  • What do you think about what Steven asks of Jeff? Is it fair? What would you do if your friend asked you to do the same thing?
  • What obstacles did Jeff face in telling Steven he would go to the city with him?
  • Have you ever been in a position where you had trouble saying you didn’t want to do something with a friend? What obstacles did you face?
  • What would you tell someone to do that was in the same position as Jeff?
  • Do you think Jeff should talk to the teacher he respects? If not, should he talk to anyone else? If so, who?
  • How do you think it would affect the friendship if Steven finds out that Jeff told an adult the situation?
  • How do you think Jeff will feel if he doesn’t tell anyone and Steven overdoses on meth?
  • How do you think Jeff will feel if he tells his teacher and the teacher tells him that he has to tell his own parents, or tell Steven to tell someone?
  • How do you personally weigh the friendship against the fact that the friend is doing something illegal and potentially problematic?
  • What do you do with those thoughts/feelings that can arise when you are doing something that you intuitively know is maybe not the best thing to be doing?
  • The definition of dilemma is a difficult choice to be made between two equally undesirable alternatives. How do we decide? And, how do we choose to live with our choices?
  • Have you ever been in a dilemma? What was it like and how did you deal with it?


SHARE YOUR RESULTS WITH US. How did your students resolve this dilemma? Did anything surprising happen? Tell us about your discussion and we may publish your comments. Click here to send us an email.


For some very helpful articles about conducting productive, lively, meaningful classroom discussions (including the Socratic method), click here.


For some excellent character education videos and DVDs that will give your students a lot to think about, talk about, and write about, visit Live Wire Media.


haris (KAIR-iss) Denison, founder of Prajna Consulting, is an expert in Community Involvement, Human Development, and Ethics.  She has built her experience primarily by working with schools and non-profits for the past 15 years.

After initially teaching middle and high school English and Creative Writing, Charis began to develop curricula and publish articles related to social justice, ethics, human development, community involvement, and experiential education.  She has received national recognition for her work in those fields, as well as for her community-based work with American teens and Tibetan refugees in Central Asia.

Charis co-wrote Tolerance for Others, a middle school human development text, with Leni Wildflower.  She currently works as the national Service-Learning consultant for both the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education and the Durango Institute for Co-Curricular Education.

Charis also teaches at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, and runs Prajna Consulting.  Through Prajna she consults with schools, parents, students, and businesses both organizationally and individually.  Charis also facilitates workshops and speaks on a wide variety of topics.

Charis can be reached at:


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