Earlier in January, six teenage girls in Nevada put up Facebook invites. They didn’t want to throw a party or go to the mall. One girl allegedly sent a Facebook invite to about 100 of her closest schoolmates to attend an "Attack a Teacher Day," and 18 others thought it would be fun, so they clicked "attend." The other five girls were accused of posting Facebook threats against specific teachers.
When they were arrested, the girls said it was just a joke.
Nobody was laughing.
Horrifying news stories such as this one are proof that, as a society, we haven’t really learned to deal properly with conflict: Little League dads punch referees. Airline travelers blow up at stewardesses.
We hear very few stories of people who can process their angry emotions in a healthy way. But doing so is radically important for teens. It’s only a matter of time before every teen has some sort of conflict with a teacher, coach or friend.
Maybe they will disagree with a grade given. Maybe it angers them that they can’t use their cell phone in school. Maybe the coach makes them mad because he won’t let them pitch.
All of those things can cause anger and frustration to surface, sparking the baser instincts to lash out.
But there’s a better way to handle those feelings.
When someone makes you mad, annoyed or frustrated, don’t respond right away. When you’re ready to confront the teacher or your friend, keep that calm and use the method my favorite youth minister called an "I Feel" statement: "I feel _____ because ______."
For example, you might say, "I feel confused because I don’t know why I got that grade" or "I feel angry because you called me an idiot in the hallway."
Anger-management counselors often advise their clients to take a "timeout," which will help them to calm down and think rationally.
During a confrontation, marriage counselors tell their clients to avoid words such as "never" and "always."
You too may be tempted at times to blow up at your parents, saying, "You never let me go to parties" or "You never let me see my friends."
But "never" and "always" put people on the defensive and make it harder for them to see your point.
Besides, chances are your parents let you go to parties and to your friends’ houses multiple times.
The golden rule applies in conflict situations. Ask yourself: Would my feelings be hurt or would I become frightened or mad if I were to hear the words I feel like yelling at my coach or friend?
If your answer is "yes," find a different way to make your point.
If you still can’t resolve your conflict, ask for mediation. Adults turn to mediation services and lawyers; teens can turn to other teachers, youth ministers, trusted adults and principals to serve as objective third parties. Sometimes the opinion of someone uninvolved is all the light a situation needs.
If just one student had taken "Attack a Teacher Day" in the spirit of the invitation, it would have been tragic. In fact, on the day the girls were arrested, tragedy did happen: A 17-year-old shot his assistant principal dead in Omaha, Neb., and then turned the gun on himself.
Even if the reason you’re angry is totally understandable, remember that the person on the other side of the conflict also is a human being, and, as such, is worthy of respect.
Sometimes we forget that teachers, coaches, bosses and friends we don’t agree with have the same emotions and feelings as we do, and hurt as deeply.
There are better options than violence!
Osborne is a columnist for Catholic News Service.