DR. WALLACE: When I was in class last week, I accidentally made an innocent comment that could very vaguely be considered to be politically incorrect, even though the thought and direction of my comment was nowhere near what some other students tried to make it out to be. To prove my point, I can tell you that my teacher actually came up to me after class when everyone else had left and she told me not to worry about it as she knew for sure what I was trying to communicate and that my heart was in the right place. She basically confirmed that I meant no malice and had no other poor intentions at all contained within my communications.
But unfortunately for me, there’s now a group of about six students who are upset with me despite my very good (and completely honest!) explanation about what I was trying to say. Now, I feel bad and I’m not sure how to handle all of the fallout over this matter. Do you have any suggestions that may help me? — Not what I meant, via email
NOT WHAT I MEANT: It would be easier for your teacher to make a general comment to the entire class than for you to have to continually defend yourself to small groups of your classmates who want to scold you. My advice is to not become angry or snippy with any of your classmates, even those who are unfriendly toward you and are now seemingly holding a grudge against you.
Perhaps wait a few days or a week to see if the whole matter dies down entirely, and if it does, simply move on. If this turns out to be the case, you’ll be glad you did not argue with anyone nor escalate a matter that was a nonissue to you in the first place.
However, if this problem persists in ways that continue to make you feel uncomfortable, then approach your teacher and ask for a meeting after class with her again. In this next meeting, explain that you were still receiving a lot of negative feedback from your classmates and ask your teacher to basically tell the entire class what she told you privately the first time. Your teacher may also be open to using this example to teach a larger message to the entire classroom in the way she feels most comfortable doing so. Words and comments are always important, but proper context is paramount. Your teacher is in the position to explain to everyone your intended context.
I’M UNCOMFORTABLE HEARING THIS!
DR. WALLACE: My 16-year-old cousin is constantly telling me about her physical “romantic” life. I don’t ask her any questions or act interested in this at all, but she keeps opening up to me and it sounds like she is proud of her “accomplishments.”
Do you think it’s possible that she could be making up these very detailed stories, or might they really be true? And if they are indeed true, should I perhaps tell her mom about this so that they can discuss the risks as a family together? If she were just a stranger to me at school, I would simply tune all of this out and walk away whenever a discussion like this started. But since she’s a close relative and her mom is my mom’s little sister, I feel responsible for her in a way.
This whole matter makes me quite uncomfortable. What are my best options here? — Uncomfortable cousin, via email
UNCOMFORTABLE COUSIN: Start by asking your cousin to quit telling you her personal stories and explain to her exactly why. Let her know they worry you because they make you feel uncomfortable, and you feel she’s taking very big risks at such a young age.
Don’t tell your aunt at this early stage, but do mention this to your mother. Let your mom know that you feel this could just be bluster or even just fully made-up stories to try to impress other teens. Keep an eye on the situation to the best of your ability to see if you notice any indicators these stories could be true or even partially true.
Your mother can take over things from here for you, and I trust she can do this diplomatically with her sister, as well. You will also have then not said anything directly to your aunt, so this keeps you pretty much out of the way, and this accomplishes your goal of being responsible to help your cousin — if it’s needed.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.