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You’re smack-dab in the middle of your transition between the carefree days of childhood and that whole “adulting” thing. Along with prepping for the inevitable (e.g., college, career, bills, rent), you’re figuring out how to speak up for yourself and solve life’s challenges on your own. Difficult situations happen, and we all make mistakes. But part of becoming an adult also means knowing when to ask for help.
“If you’re part of the problem, [act like] a grown up and handle it. If it’s a problem that’s beyond your expertise or beyond your realm of knowledge, get some professional help or help from a parent,” says Dr. Sharon Sevier, licensed professional counselor and retired school counselor in Wildwood, Missouri.
So how good are you at figuring out when you need to solve your own problems vs. when you should reach out for more help?
Choose the answer you think is best. Then see how your peers’ answers matched up.
You received a bad grade on a math test, mostly because you slacked on studying. Would you…?
A. Accept the bad grade and try harder next time.
Just over half of students surveyed said they’d accept the bad grade and move on, according to a recent Student Health 101 poll. But simply accepting the bad grade means you could be missing out on an opportunity to learn the material and negotiate a second chance with your teacher.
”I grade the work and give written feedback,” says Andy Milne, kinetic wellness and health teacher at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. “I probably have already acknowledged the fact that the grade is lower than expected, giving a comment somewhere along the lines of, ‘You haven’t studied for this, come and see me.’”
It might sound nerve-wracking, but try making the effort to meet with your teacher to discuss your options. If you do, you can find out if there’s a way to make up for the low grade by retaking the test or doing extra credit work. At the very least, it will show your teacher you’re committed to improvement.
B. Talk to your teacher about how you can relearn the concepts and ask for extra-credit opportunities to boost your grade.
Your instincts are on point. Nearly half of students chose this option in a recent Student Health 101 survey.
Taking initiative by talking to your teacher and fessing up that you didn’t study enough will help them see you’re interested in the material and dedicated to improvement. Even if it’s not your favorite subject or the teacher won’t allow you any extra-credit opportunities, making an effort to learn the material will help a lot come finals time.
“I would encourage students to be an advocate for themselves, because then it can become a very positive learning experience,” says health teacher Andy Milne. “I want the grade to represent what the students know. I would take each [situation] on a case-by-case basis, but I would be willing to let the student restudy the material and come back and take an alternate but similar assessment.”
C. Ask your parent to call the teacher and complain.
“If the student gets a parent to complain, that doesn’t work,” says health teacher Andy Milne. “I didn’t give the student that grade, that’s what the student earned.”
He’s right. How can you be in a position to ask your parent to complain if you haven’t taken any steps to improve the situation yourself? Most students seem to know better than to go this route. No one chose this option when filling out our Student Health 101 survey.
“If you haven’t done your job, talk to the teacher; don’t go home and tell Mom or Dad. It’s not the teacher’s responsibility to get you to study,” says Dr. Sevier, retired school counselor in Wildwood, Missouri. “You have to look at a situation and say, ‘Have I played a hand in creating this?’ If you have, you need to take care of it directly with that person.”
A fellow student has been saying sexually explicit comments to you. This morning, they grabbed you as you walked past. Do you…?
A. Immediately report the incident to a school official.
This is one of those times when the mature thing to do is to ask for help. More than half of students agreed in a recent Student Health 101 survey. If you are being sexually harassed, it’s not your fault or your responsibility to deal with it by yourself. Often, the problem is bigger than you are.
“You immediately need to go tell someone,” says Daniel Monroe, teacher and girls’ varsity basketball coach at San Luis Obispo High School in California. “The person [harassing you] needs to be taught that it’s not OK and they need to be punished.”
B. Ignore the person and pretend like it didn’t happen, hoping they will stop soon.
Even if you feel like you can brush it off and forget about it, ignoring the situation won’t help anyone involved. About 20 percent of students chose this answer in a recent Student Health 101 survey.
This is a tricky one because reporting the problem can feel awkward or intimidating. But not reporting it means it’s more likely to continue or get worse. If you feel uncomfortable about people knowing, find an adult you trust and ask them to keep the issue private between only the parties involved.
“If the victim doesn’t say anything, that person will continue to do it,” says Daniel Monroe, teacher and basketball coach in San Luis Obispo, California. “If a victim doesn’t speak up and tell a teacher, counselor, parent, or security guard, someone else will [likely] be victimized. [By speaking up,] you could be helping someone else down the road and saving them from that situation.”
What sexual harassment looks like
Some students aren’t fully aware of what constitutes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is any unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It’s a serious matter, and it comes in many different forms—from inappropriate staring to telling sexual jokes or sharing sexual photos to unwanted physical advances. It can be a single incident or it may happen repeatedly over time.
Whether or not the perpetrator understands that what they’re doing is sexual harassment, they need to find out quickly that their behavior is unacceptable.
Reporting it can help keep you and other students safe from future harassment. Tell any school official or adult you trust. If they don’t take you seriously, keep talking to other trusted adults until one of them does something about it.
“Talk to someone about it,” says Kyle, a sophomore in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. “Speaking with [someone] can help you calm down [and] relieve stress.”
C. Shove the person and tell them to never lay hands on you again.
Using physical violence is never the answer. Shoving someone who just grabbed you might feel like a knee-jerk reaction, but to avoid getting yourself in trouble—like getting injured or suspended for violence—the key is to explicitly tell the person to stop.
“Be very clear and very firm. Tell them: ‘I don’t like what you’re doing, don’t touch me again,’ or ‘Don’t say that again,’” says Dr. Sevier, retired school counselor from Wildwood, Missouri. “Then you need to go and tell someone—an administrator or school counselor or a parent.”
Often, students are afraid to tell someone because they’re worried about receiving backlash from that person and their friends. Take a step back to think about this. “A person who would be mad at you for telling on someone who inappropriately touched you or said something to you after you warned them not to, that’s not someone you need in your life,” says Dr. Sevier.
You’re worried about your friend. She told you she’s been feeling depressed lately and you think she might be using alcohol to cope. What do you do?
A. Try to talk to her yourself to help her feel better.
Talking (and, more importantly, listening) to a friend who you think might be having problems is always a good idea. Forty-six percent of students who responded to our survey agreed. But if the problem is serious or involves drugs or alcohol, it’s best to also get help from an adult.
“The first thing I would do is talk to [the friend] and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve noticed.’ [Then] listen to what they have to say,” says Dr. Sevier, licensed professional counselor in Wildwood, Missouri. Ask your friend if they’ve reached out for help from a trusted adult, like a therapist, a school counselor, or a parent, she adds. “As their friend, I would say, ‘It is really important to me that you get help with this situation.’”
Depression is a serious illness, and when someone is hurting, it’s not your responsibility nor is it possible for you to “fix” them. If someone close to you is depressed or having substance abuse problems, you can be there for them to lean on and talk to, but they will still need help from a qualified professional.
“In any situation, when you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, you need to go report the situation right away and talk to someone,” says Daniel Monroe, a health teacher in California. “Even when you don’t think it’s anything, it needs to be looked into right away. It can’t wait. Someone in that situation may not feel like they can talk to anyone. They [may] tell you everything is OK, when deep down it’s not.”
+ For more information on how to talk about mental health issues and depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website
B. Talk to a parent or trusted adult at school to find out how you can help connect her to resources.
More than 30 percent of students agreed that they would reach out to a trusted adult to help their friend, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey.
You can explain to your friend that you’re not willing to risk their health—or their life—and so you’re going to talk to an adult about your concerns. Be prepared to be strong and courageous. They may not want you to speak to someone about the issue, but remember that you’re acting in their best interest.
“This is an area where you want to err on the side of caution all the time,” says California teacher Daniel Monroe. “It’s better to have someone who is experienced in that field—like a counselor or psychologist—explore and look into the matter.”
“It’s really tough, because students are put in this situation where they don’t want to be known as someone who tattles on someone or is the ‘rat’ or the ‘narc,’” he says. “But you definitely need to tell somebody.”
C. Do nothing; it’s best not to interfere.
It can be tempting to feel like you should let your friend handle the issue herself, but she may not be in a position to do so. In fact, she may need support from friends like you to help her get back on track.
“Silence and confidentiality are not helping; they’re actually enabling,” says Dr. Sevier. “You’ve got to go and get help. [If you don’t], this can spiral into trouble fast; it’ll be like a tornado.”
You are not interfering when you are looking out for someone’s health and well-being.
The coach didn’t put you in to play during the entire game last night, but you’ve been trying hard in practice and really felt like you could have helped the team. Do you…?
A. Accept that your job is to keep the bench warm this season and keep cheering on your teammates.
About 20 percent of students said they’d accept their role as bench warmer for the season, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. Accepting your place on the bench may be inevitable, but why not try to do something more about it?
“As an athlete, you can always strive to be better,” says Daniel Monroe, girls’ varsity basketball coach at San Luis Obispo High School in California. “Use it as motivation for yourself to really be better in practice and show the coach you deserve to be in the game.”
Regardless of what happens, you can keep focusing on being a supportive teammate. You may feel disappointed you’re not playing, but remember your coach is trying to do what’s best for the team. Working harder in practice and maybe even asking the coach for some extra one-on-one time can show your drive and determination to improve. Whether or not you get much actual game time, you’ll be teaching yourself to work hard and go after your goals in the face of adversity. Any improvements you make in your skill are ultimately a win against your biggest competition—yourself.
B. Tell your parent how upset you are and ask them to talk to the coach.
Your parent wants the best for you, but asking them to complain to the coach isn’t going to help your case. You need to embrace the situation as a chance to build your skills and show the coach that you deserve to play.
“Don’t bring Mom or Dad into it,” says retired school counselor Dr. Sevier. “If it becomes obvious that someone is keeping you from playing and there’s no good reason for it, then you might want to have a discussion with your parent. But in sports, you want to deal with your coach first.”
“You have to focus on what you can control. Some athletes might be just a bit better than you athletically, or may perform better than you, and sometimes those are things that are out of your control,” says Daniel Monroe, basketball coach at San Luis Obispo High School in California.
Set some goals for yourself—both individually and as a member of the team. What skills can you improve upon so you can earn more playing time? What can you do to help the team be more successful? “Set some goals you know you’re able to achieve, and then set some goals that are slightly out of reach that you want to strive for,” says Monroe.
C. Talk to the coach yourself one-on-one and ask how you can prove yourself to be worthy of getting onto the field.
Seventy-seven percent of students agreed that talking to the coach one-on-one is the best option, according to our survey.
“I think the most important thing you have to do, as an athlete, is to go speak with your coach. Sit down and have a conversation with them,” says Daniel Monroe, varsity basketball coach at San Luis Obispo High School in California. “I think it’s important for every athlete to understand why they’re not playing. And a good coach will embrace that opportunity to explain.”
Ask your coach which key areas you can work on in practice, and then take the opportunity to focus on those and improve. Show your coach you have a good attitude, you’re putting forth your best effort, and that you are coachable. Most importantly, be a supportive teammate. “Understand it’s not all about you; the main goal is for the team to be successful,” he says.
“Whenever something like this happens, I take time for myself and set goals I know I can reach with a bit more determination,” says Angela, a freshman in Boston, Massachusetts.
Work hard in practice. Show up early and leave late. Make sure you are ready to perform when your opportunity arises. And if that opportunity doesn’t come, consider looking into another sport where you may have more natural talent.
Andy Milne, kinetic wellness and health teacher, New Trier High School, Winnetka, Illinois.
Daniel Monroe, health science teacher and basketball coach, San Luis Obispo, California.
Dr. Sharon Sevier, retired school counselor and licensed professional counselor, Wildwood, Missouri.
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