The Rising Tide of Teen Dishonesty
- Monday, November 28, 2011
I always speak the truth and refuse to tell a lie. --Proverbs 8:7 (CEV)
Some claim that the silly gesture of crossing your fingers behind your back to cover up a lie originated with Roman persecution of Christians. To escape death, those who lied about their faith in Christ, just as Peter did, made the sign of the cross behind their back to ask God's forgiveness.
That sounds more like a fable to me, but it's a fact that teenagers today seem to be crossing their fingers behind their back more and more. They are cheating and stealing more, too. The latest Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, shows teens are lying more often and more easily than ever. The report indicates an increase in lying, cheating and stealing among youth since 2006, when the report was first published.
Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they lied recently for financial gain. Sixty-four percent said they cheated on a test during the past year, and 38% had cheated more than once. Eight-three percent said they had recently lied to their parents about something significant.
Concerning theft, 33% of the boys and 25% of the girls in the survey admitted to shoplifting in the past 12 months. Twenty-four percent said they had stolen something from a relative or parent in the same time period, and 20% had stolen something from a friend. Perhaps the most telling bit of data was that 93% said they are "satisfied with their personal ethics and character."
All teenage behavior, including dishonesty, has a motivating factor. Teens hope to get something out of everything they do. Some will cheat or lie to feel esteemed or to appear perfect at any cost. Some just need to feel that they are never wrong, so they lie to cover it up when they are. Some are untruthful because they fear the consequences from mom or dad for telling the truth. And as far as stealing, kids steal things because they feel entitled to own them, or for the thrill of getting away with it, or just to fit in with their peers.
Let's not overlook the way our culture glorifies all forms of dishonesty. It's difficult for one to think of an unimpeachably honest public figure today. Every day we hear of politicians, business leaders, sports figures, police, teachers and judges -- people whom we once looked up to as role models -- who have been caught in a lie or a cheat or a theft of some kind. And consider the explosion in popularity of so-called "reality" TV shows, whose plot and strategy are usually based on deception and lying in order to gain a monetary prize or fame. It's a far cry from the most popular TV shows in my teen years, like Bonanza, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie. They may have been corny at times, but they had recurring themes of honesty and good character.
The most popular form of entertainment for teens today is the Internet. Due to its anonymity, deception and fantasy are rife on the Internet. Parents should be concerned that such deception, what I call "digital courage," can spill over and fuel an attitude of deception in other areas of the teen's life. So, I tell parents to follow their instincts. Even if there is no obvious cause for concern, they should keep a wary eye on their teen's online surfing and make it a policy to know all of their teenager's web passwords. In fact, I recommend parents install good monitoring software to track all of their teen's Internet activity. Knowing that mom and dad are monitoring will go a long way toward keeping the teen honest in what they see, do and say on the Internet.
High academic expectations can also put a lot of pressure on a teen to cheat. Holding kids to unnecessarily high achievement standards can sometimes pressure them into getting a good grade at any cost. This and social stresses at school are more troubling for kids today than most parents realize. In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Health recently found that the stress of school keeps 68 percent of students awake at night, with 20 percent of them at least once a week. And of course, lack of sleep reduces their ability to think clearly and handle stress, so it becomes a vicious cycle. Could this be pushing more kids to cheat? Possibly.
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