By Charis Denison, Prajna Consulting
Daily Dilemma — GoodCharacter.com

The Situation

Tina considered herself a pretty assertive young woman. She was sixteen but felt her confidence in both her values and her place in the world was stronger than most of her peers. That made Saturday night even more surprising and harder to deal with. She had gone to a party her parents agreed she could attend. In arranging a ride, her mother had called the parents of an acquaintance of Tina’s she knew from chorus. Chris lived nearby, and Tina’s parents thought they could carpool. It was decided that Tina’s mother would drive the two of them to the party and Chris’s father would drive them home.

The problem arose at the end of the night when Chris’ dad arrived to pick them up. When Tina opened the passenger door of the car, the smell of alcohol washed over her. She got in and thanked Chris’s Dad for coming to get them. He seemed normal to Tina, but she wasn’t sure what a drunk driver looked like.

Tina was close to her parents and respected how often they told her never to get in the car with someone who was drinking. They also told her if she ever felt uncomfortable to call home and they would pick her up, no questions asked. But, what if the driver was a friend of her parents and an adult? She hadn’t ever considered that as a possibility and now that she was, she was halfway home smack in the middle of the problem.

Chris was acting like everything was fine. Tina felt very uncomfortable. All of her confidence had disappeared. She felt like a robot just going through the motions. What could she do? She felt like all the rules had changed and she had no options.

Notes for the Facilitator

This is a hard one. When one of my students approached me with this dilemma, she told me she had gone home and asked her mother’s advice and her mother was stumped. So, she was coming to me. This is a challenge on many levels. The fact that a young person thinks that ethical rules change when an adult is involved, even when his or her life is at stake, is sad. The fact that a key adult figure might agree is even more disappointing. That being said, Tina doesn’t have many options that will go over “smoothly” shall we say. To defy or question authority (especially when it is authority you are inclined to respect) is one of the hardest steps young adults have to take.

This case presents an opportunity to validate doing what one knows is the right or smart thing to do no matter what or who is involved. Young people need an army of adult role models around values. The reality is that most have a handful. Others are desperately searching for just one. It is so important that we make it okay for kids to take care of themselves. It is so important that they feel proud of every decision they make that does just that. Often, being emotionally assertive means disappointing someone you have a relationship with. I wish my students had more practice at this. I think it would serve them far better than a high score on the SAT’s.

Discussion Questions (& Debate Topics, Writing Assignments, etc.)

  • What makes this dilemma so difficult?
  • Put yourself in Tina’s shoes. What would you do? Why?
  • What might have made Tina’s situation easier to deal with?
  • What do you think your parents would do if you asked to get out of the car and called your parents for a ride? Do you know anyone who would make that choice? Why or why not?
  • Describe a time you or someone you know questioned an adult you felt was making a choice that might impact you negatively.
  • Describe a time an adult in your life disappointed you? What happened? How did it change how you viewed him or her (if at all)?