Sam is a seventeen-year-old from Montgomery, NJ. When she isn’t obsessing over the New Jersey Devils, Sam is doing charity work, reading magazines, and hanging with friends. She also wishes to make an imprint on the world in the future.
This past month, I was ensnared in a minor incident. After stupidly posting an angry rant on my (now-deleted) Tumblr about a girl, the girl not only posted angry rants in response, but also reported me to my school’s administration. I willingly took the punishment, which, according to New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law, involved reporting the incident to the board of education and the local police. Needless to say, it added some unnecessary stress to my already crazy school week.
However, what I found striking about the incident, was that out of everyone who knew about it, all of them agreed that the girl should not have gone to my school about what I wrote. I was shocked. After the situation died down, I pondered what actually does constitute a trip to the principal’s office or a call to the police station, and came up with the following:
When You Should Speak Up:
- 1. If you see something illegal (or illicit)
This one is a little bit obvious, based on common sense. Don’t wait, as details might become fuzzy; bring the information to someone you know that will take full action. With situations like this, the last thing you need is a Penn State-esque mishap complete with bad communication.
- 2. If a situation compromises your well-being (or that of others)
Unfortunately, people say nasty things to each other all the time. Yet, there are certain statements and phrases that totally cross the line (slurs of any kind and death threats, just to name a few). Don’t be afraid to speak up to your principal or a person of authority if you feel like you or someone you care about might feel endangered by vitriolic comments or other issues. No one deserves to feel disrespected.
- 3. If you need adult insight on a conflict
We teenagers like to assume that we can handle everything on our own, and that adults need to stay out of our business, no matter how sticky. However, sometimes things can be a bit too sticky for us to manage. In this case, a more adult opinion might be more useful than handling the problem yourself. If you’re afraid of going to a parent or administrator, go to another adult you trust (guidance counselor, coach, employer, etc). They’ve been around the block a few times, so don’t discount them for advice on how to deal with a situation.
When You Shouldn’t Speak Up:
1. If you witness something uncomfortable
This statement ties back into the first tip under “When You Should Speak Up.” Notice how the word “uncomfortable” was missing from that first statement. Naturally, when we witness something illegal, it is a common response to feel uncomfortable regardless of the incident. Furthermore, feeling discomfort doesn’t always arise from a situation that needs your involvement. For example, leave it up to the faculty to report that mushy couple engaging in PDA in the halls, it’s not up to you.
- 2. As a means of getting back at someone
With my incident, many others seemed to perceive the other girl’s actions as her attempt at retaliation for what I wrote. This being said, if you are angry at someone for something that is generally menial or petty, then do not go to an authority figure. Chances are, it is something that can easily be resolved through calm and collected methods, from discussion to letting the issue subside. Besides, tattling is so elementary school.
- 3. If someone criticizes you, even if it is a little on the harsh side
This could be considered a follow-up from my last point. No one is perfect. We dish out criticism not so much to put down others, but to help others become better in their skills, in their mindset, or in themselves. So, when someone says something about you that may be a little too harsh, it is best to just brush it off and not, as we teens like to say, call the “wambulance.” Some people are just not the best at conveying their more negative comments in a kinder way, and going to a figure of power might not alleviate whatever you’re feeling.
Photo: Nels Highberg courtesy of Flickr