Challenge Your Students with

by Charis Denison


This is #2 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)

Jennifer is a transfer student in her sophomore year in high school. By November, she had made some good friends through her soccer team and her classes, but still felt on the outside of the more popular students. She has a great relationship with her parents, and trusts their advice to just give it time.

The first weekend of Thanksgiving break, rumors started that a blow out party was happening at a sophomore girl’s house while the parents were out of town. Jennifer didn’t know the girl well but she was one of the most popular girls in the class and most of the upperclassmen were planning on attending, as well. One of the hottest junior guys had already asked her if she would be there. Everyone was saying this was going to be the best party of the year. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to break out of her small clique and hang out with the students everyone always talked about.

Her dilemma was that there was no way her parents would let her go to this party if they knew the parents were out of town, and she wanted to go very badly. Jennifer had rarely lied to her parents and never about anything big. She knew her parents trusted her and that made it even harder to lie to them. Because they respected her, she hated the times when she felt like she was letting them down.

Her friends told her to just not say anything and only lie if her parents directly asked her about adults being at the party. Easy enough for them to say, but her friends weren’t as tight with their parents as she was with hers. She felt that if she just went to this one party her social standing at school could be a lot different. She would get to know more students, she’d be seen as someone they can party with, and she wouldn’t be so shy about approaching the more popular students anymore.

Would it be worth it to hide the facts of the party from her parents and risk having to lie? And if they found out about the party, could she deal with the fact that they probably wouldn’t trust her anymore? On the other hand, everyone lies to his or her parents eventually. And if they never found out, what would it really matter?

(this is for you)

I like this case because it gets students thinking and talking about the fact that what feels like an okay choice for one person might not feel so okay to someone else. And it is a good example of how listening to others may only confuse, rather than help us make the right choices. Every child has a unique relationship with his/her parents, and that relationship informs the ethical choices the child makes involving his/her parents. At some point we have to consider the potential consequences of our actions and weigh whether the benefits are worth the price.

I also like this case because often I find that teens are constantly talking about “if parents ever found out…” yet they share in class how awful they feel when they lie or hide things from their parents. It often makes them feel alone and vulnerable. Getting kids to formally talk about a case like this tends to shed some light on this point.

Encourage students to share a wide variety of responses. Sometimes, I split the room in two and have kids go to one side or the other based on whether or not they would go to the party against their parents’ wishes. Then, I have them state their points to one another. Chances are many of your students have already lived this case study and might share what it felt like for them to make that choice and whether it was worth it to them.

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

  • What do you think about Jennifer’s situation? Do you empathize with her? How does being new possibly affect her dilemma?
  • What would you do?
  • What do you think your parents would do if you told them about the party?
  • Have you or someone you know ever been in a similar situation? What happened?
  • What do you do when you are faced with a situation where there doesn’t seem to be a “good choice”?
  • Who do you have in your life (besides your parents) that you might go to if you were faced with this dilemma?


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 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:


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

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