More Teens Lie, Cheat, and Steal

December 01, 2008 1 min read

A new survey shows that more high school students are lying, cheating, and stealing—a reflection, it says, of the “entrenched habits of dishonesty” among young people.

The 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, released by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, is the result of a survey of 29,000 students at public and private high schools throughout the country.

Sixty-four percent of the students said they have cheated on a test over the past year, with nearly four in 10 doing so more than once. Some 40 percent lifted information off the Internet and used it in an assignment. (click on the charts to enlarge.)

This, even as the students report that their parents emphasize the importance of honesty and hard work, and that they themselves believe that truthfulness and trustworthiness are important in personal and business relationships.

So what gives? An overwhelming majority of the students say that honesty is important, and don’t necessarily believe that cheating and stealing will help them get ahead. Yet most admit to such behaviors.

The report doesn’t give much insight into why, but could increasing testing pressure have something to do with it? Or perhaps teens see dishonesty in school as something entirely different from lying or cheating at home or at work. When they want something—good grades, a cool new gadget, or a way out of an uncomfortable situation—is dishonesty just the easy way out? Given all the news about the causes of the current economic crisis, and with prominent lawmakers going to jail for unethical conduct, are kids just following adults’ lead? Granted, some of the teens might not have even taken the survey seriously—more than one-fourth said they didn’t even answer the survey questions honestly! But since the survey began, the data have shown a solid trend toward the dark side.

At the risk of sounding like an aging, out-of-touch adult: What’s wrong with kids these days?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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