Challenge Your Students with

by Charis Denison


This is #7 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 previous dilemmas archived here.

(present this to your students)

Stephanie is in ninth grade and, until recently, felt pretty lucky. She had a good group of friends, was fairly popular, and was doing okay academically. The fall was hard because starting high school meant meeting a whole new group of people and teachers. Things were just beginning to get easier, and now she was in trouble.

Stephanie always thought of herself as a good friend but two weeks ago she found herself in a pretty big dilemma.  One of her good friends, Rebecca, had confided to her that she liked a guy in the sophomore class. Stephanie had offered to go talk to him for her. When Stephanie told the boy that Rebecca was interested in him, he told Stephanie he might be interested but also asked if Stephanie wanted to hang out that Saturday at a local party. It didn’t seem like that big a deal when Stephanie said yes, but on Saturday, she let things get carried away and the two hooked up. She didn’t even know why she did it. It just seemed really cool that he was into her and, quite frankly, she just wasn’t thinking.

To make matters worse, Rebecca came to her on Monday and asked if Stephanie knew anything about what was going on with this guy. She had heard that he had gotten together with someone else and Rebecca was upset. Stephanie knew she should just tell Rebecca the truth, but she didn’t want to lose her friendship. She wanted to find a way where Rebecca wouldn’t find out what happened and Stephanie wouldn’t lose any friends. She had to think fast. She panicked, and told Rebecca she had heard a rumor that he had hooked up with a certain other girl in their class.

Now, everything felt like it was spinning out of control. The boy wasn’t talking, but after Rebecca confronted the accused girl she wanted Rebecca to set up a meeting so she could talk to Stephanie. This was a mess. What was Stephanie supposed to do now?

For an archive of previous dilemmas, click here.


(this is for you)

Ahh. The teen girl soap opera. While seemingly trivial, this case brings up an important issue of competing forces in a teen’s life: sexuality and friendship. My students almost always go through two stages when talking about this sort of dilemma. I often put the girls in a circle and have the boys listen in on a frank discussion of how they handle conflict among their own gender group. Then I switch and have the boys do the same with the girls listening in. Usually, the girls will start off berating Stephanie. “She is a “Ho”. “She’s a worthless friend.” ”Who would respect her?” And, of course, “ I would NEVER do that!” Then, I (or frequently I get lucky and one of the girls will do this for me) will challenge this posture and ask if any of them have ever lied to a good friend when there was a guy involved. Usually, with some prodding, at least half will raise their hands. Enter phase two of the discussion.

Ethics are a lot more simple when extremes are involved, or when we allow our students to stay on an intellectual level while discussing these scenarios. But when asked about their own real life experiences, the discussion becomes much more emotionally charged and things can get pretty complicated. Sexuality and friendship begin their battle around thirteen and don’t stop for a long time. I think it’s important to have a conversation that allows teens to see that it is wrong to be dishonest or put yourself at risk like Stephanie did. But it is our job as educators to help students see that villifying somene who does is not productive. Defining one’s identity during adolescence can be extremely confusing. Teens want to be seen as good friends and they also want to be seen as sexually attractive. At times that feels like a tightrope walk.

It is so great to get girls talking about what makes them lie to one another. What is threatened in doing so? What is compromised? What role does fear play in this dilemma? It is also great to hear guys talk about how they handle this tightrope walk and how/why it is so different. Bringing the whole group together at the end for a full discussion can prove really illuminating. (It is worth noting that even with gay or bisexual teens, I find that these gender roles still exist.)

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

  • What sort of person do you think Stephanie is?
  • What do you think she should do at this point?
  • Why do you think she made the choices she did?
  • Have you ever been in the same place as any of the four people in this dilemma? What happened? What did it feel like?
  • Have you or someone you know ever lied to a friend about someone you (or they might have been interested in?
  • Do you think girls handle conflict differently than guys? How? Why?


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 previous 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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