Teens Today Lack Ethics, Study Says; Use Success to Justify Behavior

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 7, 2007 | Go to article overview

Teens Today Lack Ethics, Study Says; Use Success to Justify Behavior


Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ethics and American teenagers are an uneasy mix: Many young people assume that success justifies bad behavior, according to new research.

Although seven out of 10 teens said they're fully prepared to make ethical decisions, almost half - 46 percent - said they felt overwhelmed with pressure to succeed, "no matter what the cost."

That cost could be heavy: 38 percent said it could be necessary to cheat, steal, plagiarize, lie or behave violently to make it, according to a survey released yesterday by Junior Achievement, a Colorado-based volunteer group, and Deloitte & Touche, New York-based business consultants.

In addition, 58 percent said lying to a parent is acceptable. Another quarter of the respondents thought cheating on a test or violence is acceptable on some level, with more than half citing "their personal desire to succeed" as the rationale.

"The high percentages of teenagers who freely admit that unethical behavior can be justified is alarming," said David Miller, director of the Yale University Center for Faith and Culture. "It suggests an attitude of ethical relativism and rationalization of whatever actions serve one's immediate needs and purposes."

The survey also found a disconnect between the students and their sense of right and wrong in personal or professional situations.

More than a quarter said it would be unfair for an employer to fire employees who were unethical outside of their jobs. The young respondents also assigned "different ethical standards for online versus 'real world' behavior." Nearly half - 47 percent - of the teens said it is acceptable to illegally download music without paying for it; only 5 percent said it is acceptable to steal from a retail store. …

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