Challenge Your Students with

by Charis Denison

This is #16 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 of dilemmas here.

(present this to your students)

and his mom were on the way home from attending an evening at school for parents and teenagers. The event was designed for parents and teens to build communication skills around the issues that kids face during high school.

The night had gone so well that Jay decided this was a good time to ask his mom about drugs. He had been wanting to do that for a long time, but figured he’d just get a lecture. He wanted something more real than that.

Jay told his mom about a party he had recently attended where some of the kids were smoking pot. Jay had never smoked pot before and he was tempted to give it a try, but he declined because he thought about what his parents might do if they found out. Now seemed like a good opportunity to find out exactly what they would do.

So he asked his mom.

She replied that she would be terribly disappointed in him. That she would feel she had failed as a parent. That she wouldn’t be able to trust him anymore. That she would seek professional counseling for the whole family.

Her answer seemed pretty clear, until–

A few weeks later, the family was packing for week of skiing. As Jay was helping to load the last of the bags into the trunk, he knocked over his mom’s bag and a small pipe fell out. He picked it up and saw traces of pot left in the bottom of it. Now what?

All the way to the mountains Jay replayed that moment of finding the pipe. The hypocrisy was too much. Now, what should he do? Should he stay quiet and assume this gives him a perfect excuse to smoke pot, or should he confront his mom and tell her what it felt like to find the pipe in her bag?

All Jay knew for sure was that he resented having to make this choice at all.

For an archive of previous dilemmas, click here.

(this is for you)

Students will talk about the hypocrisy of adults forever. It is a favorite topic because it resonates so much in their current lives. They are in the middle of forming their own ethics while moving from seeing their parents as their primary community to seeing their peers that way. Since they are sort of emotional and ethical nomads at this point, they are quick to find and point out the signs along the way that are clearly incorrect or confusing. Also, there is nothing more satisfying that proving an adult wrong.

This case can foster a much larger discussion around the issue of adult hypocrisy, which is helpful. At the same time, I think it’s important to deal with the specific issue that Jay is facing. He is actively looking for his moral compass. He is asking some good questions and looking for guidance. And he got slammed. What do you do when you are trying to do everything right and you are betrayed by someone you are raised to trust implicitly? Finally, how do you follow someone’s rules when that someone is breaking the rules?

(also, debate topics, writing assignments, etc.

  • What are the possible consequences if Jay confronts his mom?
  • What are the possible consequences if Jay says nothing and waits to use the information later?
  • Can you think other options Jay might choose?
  • What are some of the feelings Jay probably felt when he discovered his mom’s pipe?
  • What would you do if you were in Jay’s shoes?
  • Can you think of a time recently when someone you admired let you down?
  • What are some examples of hypocrisy that you see in adults? What do you think are some causes why those examples exist?
  • How comfortable are you with your parents in discussing some of the choices you’re making in your life right now?


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 Socratic method), click here.


For an archive of dilemmas, click here.


For some excellent character education videos and DVD’s 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 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:


Live Wire Media, our sister site, offers award-winning, research-based video DVDs, curriculum modules, interactive software, and other helpful tools.

The Character Chronicles

6 DVDs
for Grades 4-8

The Trust Connection
The Respect Connection
The Responsibility Connection
The Fairness Connection
The Caring Connection
The Citizenship Connection

In Search of Character

10 DVDs
for Grades 7-12


You Can Choose!

10 DVDs
for Grades K-5

Being Responsible
Dealing with Feelings
Saying No
Doing the Right Thing
Dealing with Disappointment
Appreciating Yourself
Asking for Help
Being Friends
Resolving Conflicts

Big Changes,
Big Choices

12 DVDs
for Grades 5-9

The 3 R’s of Growing Up
You and Your Values
Enhancing Self Esteem
Setting & Achieving Goals
Dealing with Pressures
Handling Emotions
Preventing Conflicts & Violence
Saying No to Alcohol/Drugs
Speaking of Sex
Getting Along with Parents
Respecting Others

Getting Along
with Groark

5 DVDs
for Grades K-5

Controlling Anger
Working Out Conflicts
Being Good Listeners
Bullying & Teasing
Prejudice & Respect

The Six Pillars
of Character

6 DVDs
for Grades K-5



© Copyright Elkind+Sweet Communications, Inc. All rights are reserved. The material in this website is intended for non-commercial educational use. It may not be reprinted on the web or anywhere else without written permission of the publisher. Please see our terms of use.