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Install#41-Moral Dilemmas & Tough Choices

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 H20 to Go!
Growing Emotional Resilience &
Navigating Through Childhood with Heart, Humor & Optimism
Book-On-Line-Preview: Chapter 6 (cont'd)
We started with beginner ‘What-If’ Questions in Middle School.Beginner 'What-If' Questions What would you do? We added news questions-who, what, why, when, where in Ninth Grade.Playing News Reporter  And now we get to the graduate level—the questions that will come upon our high schoolers—questions that go to the heart of their character-the same type of questions that will follow them through out their adult life.  They begin here, right now, in high school and they involve moral dilemmas and tough choices.  Wednesday-Installment #42- Moral Dilemmas, and Tough Choices (By the way, we are have only 5 installments left)

BY Margo Judge

Updated 2009

H20 to Go! Copyright, 2004
By  Margo Judge

All rights reserved.
All material on this website protected.
Permission granted for reprinting with
Attribution to Margo@MomOpinion Matters (TM)

Chapter 6 (Cont'd)
Installment #42
Moral Dilemmas, Tough Choices, What-Ifs?
You're in the bathroom. Two students come in and agree to meet after school. One has some pills, the other wants to buy them. You overhear the conversation. And you recognize the voices. Or, you're seated in a classroom, taking a test. One of your classmates copies off someone else. You see because you're sitting right behind them. Or. you're on the bus. You watch a fellow student pour "water" into a friend's sport bottle. You know it's vodka, because they say so in whispers.

Cut to a week later. A student has been caught with pills on campus. The administration needs to know who sold the pills. You know. Everyone who took the test gets called into the principal's office, because several tests appear almost identical. Who was cheating? You know. Someone reported drinking on the bus. The administration wants to know who? You know.

But you're not going to tell. Those involved are your classmates, and, in some cases, your friends. There exists an unspoken bond with your peers. You're at an age when loyalties run deep—friendships stand paramount. Ratting on a friend amounts to a capital offense, both in your mind and to others you might betray.

The issue turns more complicated. Someone saw you go into the bathroom and besides, you and those two students are good friends. You were sitting in the same area where the cheating took place. You had to have seen something. You have a sports bottle, too. How many people were drinking? You weren't? The administration needs your cooperation, for the good of the school and the student body as a whole. If you have information that could help, you need to come forward. If you have information and choose not to, you're in violation of the honor code to the school, and you're not telling the truth. Your information will be kept confidential. No one will know you came forward except the administration. Of course, if you don't cooperate, you might be considered an accomplice, and will, therefore, be subject to repercussion by the school.

On the other hand, what if you actually were involved and the school knows and they also want the names of others involved with you. And what if they tell you that revealing those names will put you in better standing and your penalty will be less severe. Do you reveal names to protect yourself, or because you are terrified of what your parents will say, or because your parents want you to cooperate- your future is at stake, along with everything that they have worked for to get you there?

But by cooperating, you have become a snitch and no one will socialize with you. You might even be threatened. You are no longer trusted and you lose your friends. You might have to switch schools.

So, from the point of view of a young person, which seems more ethical? Telling the truth or remaining loyal to a friend? Saving your own skin, or taking the fall with your pals?

One day, my son (then a freshman in high school) came home and told me that a junior had received an in-house suspension.
What's that mean?
It means he has to stay at school. He cannot attend class, he has to sit outside. What did he do?
He wouldn't give names to the school. Names about what?
About cheating. Did he cheat too?
But he wasn't going to say who else cheated?
I guess he didn't want to betray his friends. And
what would you have done, I asked him?
You'd have to find me another school. Mom, I'd never tell either.
Then, I asked him a more important question. When WOULD you name names?
Kids are very clear about what they won't do but, they are not necessarily clear about what they would do, and under what circumstances SHOULD they do something.
OK, what if your friend has been drinking at a football game and is about to get into a car?
I'd try to stop him, or take away the keys.
What if you couldn't?
I'd find another friend to help.
And what if the only person around was a teacher, or a coach?
What if you saw a friend doing something that could put someone else in immediate danger?
Like what?
Well, like the same friend in the other example, only this time he/she is giving a ride home to someone?
Who do you then have more responsibility towards? Your best friend, or the other person you don't know who is about to get into that car?
Or what if you overheard a conversation of a possible threat to someone? Would you report it even if you had to give the name of the person who was doing the threatening? Even if that person was a friend?
Or What if you saw a group of kids being physically aggressive with one person
What would you do? Would you participate? Would you try to break it up? Would you call or go for help?
What if you studied really hard for a test that meant a lot for a grade you wanted, and someone cheated and as a result, the teacher decided to mark everyone on a curve. So, because X cheated and got a B instead of a C, your grade gets automatically bumped from an A to a B and there goes the A you worked so hard for. Would you tell the teacher who cheated?

Taking appropriate action can sometimes be tough for kids because they won't necessarily differentiate situations. They tend to pour everything into one pot. If we can separate these issues out, and walk them through various scenarios, we've helped them plan what they would do under various situations.

My son and I went to see the movie, "Traffic". There is a scene in which one of the teenagers overdoses. Her friends drive her to the hospital, and leave her on the front steps of emergency and speed away. I remember, poking my son's arm at the end of that scene, and whispering, don't you ever do something like that! They had a responsibility to stay with that girl. Yes, they got her to the hospital, because they were afraid she might die, but they were not willing to stay with her because they were afraid of the consequences.

And so it happened, that at my son's school, a group of football players attended a party. One of them got very drunk. The team drove him to the hospital, and they stayed with him. All of them received suspensions for drinking but they had done the right thing by staying as a group with their friend. However, that same bond and loyalty might preclude them from ever reporting on one of their own in a different situation.

So, will kids always understand when the right thing might be to stay with a friend, or when the right thing might be to separate from and leave a friend? For young people who are still sifting through all the nuances of situations, those choices can at times be impossible.

What can we do? We can ask-what would YOU do? And why? We are not seeking the right answer, as much as we are seeking to know how they think, and the logic behind their answers. Then we can help them see for themselves where perhaps that logic holds together or falls apart. We can ask-when would you think it might be absolutely necessary to tell someone about your best friend's behavior? When not? What we find is that kids are not accustomed to thinking that way, but once done, we've given them an invaluable, preemptive tool to carry with them.

My feeling about teenagers in particular, is that the more we can place them in a scene before that scene arises, the more prepared they will be to take appropriate action. Kids need time to think through situations. Talking them through imaginary scenarios gives them that time. When life happens our kids will not have time to think. They might need to react very quickly. Playing "what-if" can be a great way to prepare them,
and keep them from feeling panic and confusion. We get to find out how they think and perhaps help them see beyond their viewpoint. They get to hear how they would respond, and perhaps tweak, alter or totally revamp their plan. It's a win/win for both parties.
When our children are little, "what if s" have to do with safety.
What if someone in a car calls you over to ask the time?
What if a stranger comes up and wants you to help find his lost dog? What if an acquaintance says your mommy told me to take you home?
What if you get lost in a store? Who should you talk to, or where should you go?
As our children get older, we stop talking about safety issues, and so we tend to stop talking "what if's" but, we shouldn't. The next stage of "what if's" are just as important. Our kids will be away from home more, and less under constant eye.
What if you get in a car with friends and you discover that others in the car are drinking? What do you do?
What if you are at someone's house and there is alcohol—do you stay and not drink, or leave?
What if you're spending the night at a friend's house, and you both go to a party that you didn't tell your parents about, but even so, you arrive and find no parents there, recreational sex going on in the basement-- your friend wants to stay, you want to leave, what do you do?
What if you're the designated driver but you are having a tough time getting your friends to leave the party, and now it's past your curfew. What do you do?
What if you happen to be with a group and they decide to be destructive in some way. What would you do?

The more outrageous and perhaps, unlikely the "what if's the better. It gets kids thinking beyond the boundaries of their immediate experience and forces them to confront possibilities that may or may not come up.
What if you get pregnant? What would you do?
What if you get someone else pregnant? What would you do?
What if you got a sexually transmitted disease? What would you do?

Also, we don't know if our kids are actually going to call us if they are scared, or confide in us if they're in trouble. We don't know if, instead, they will panic and try to cover up out of fear of reprisal or punishment or disappointing a parent. We don't know if they will try to work it out by themselves because they feel they're old enough. We don't know until they are in a situation that tests their trust in us and in themselves.

Until we face that moment, what we can talk a lot of "what if s." And at the end of every "what if" remind our children that no matter what, no matter where, no matter who, no matter why, they can always call, and we will come, anywhere, any time. I digress, but I am reminded of a time I told this to my son when he was much younger. So, off he went to a sleep over. Off too, went my husband and myself to a rare night out at the movies. Ten minutes before the movie began, my cell phone rang and it was my son. He did not sound like a happy camper. Finally, I asked if he wanted us to come pick him up. Yes. No questions asked, we did, and all three of us then went out for dessert. He talked about what bothered him so at this boy's house. It turned out that the boy's parents (unbeknownst to us) went out and had a babysitter come. The babysitter only wanted to watch music videos. My son did not feel comfortable, and wanted to come home. I had always told him to trust his instincts, and never feel that he needed to stay
some place that felt odd. Could he really follow his instincts and call and leave his friend's house? Yes, he could. We kept our word. He could trust his instincts.

Whether our kids face a moral dilemma where right exists on both sides, but only one can be chosen, or tough decisions where one right choice exists and, though difficult, must be made, the issue will be different for each child and each parent. So, whenever we can create the opportunity to ask, (when they come home and share a story about someone else, see a movie, read a story, or hear a news report),
What if that was you?
What would you do?
We find out a lot about our own kids. They find out a lot about their own parents. That builds trust. And ultimately, trust in us will lead to trust in themselves –trust to handle moral dilemmas, make tough choices and take the right action when necessary.
Besides, it's nice to be able to ask a question that defies the mono- syllabic response, No,
"What if" simply won't allow for that. Promise!


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