Maybe Teens and Tweens Aren’t So Morally Lax After All

Adults are predisposed to see teenagers as immoralists who will take a mile if given an inch. A report released last month by the Girl Scout Research Institute casts doubt on the universal truth of that notion, instead detecting a significant constituency for self-restraint and traditional morality among the teens and tweens surveyed.

Indeed, the polling finds that fidelity to traditional norms has increased rather than decreased during the past couple of decades. For instance, a 1989 version of the survey found 24 percent of 7th-12th graders saying they would wait to have sex until they were married, vs. the current 33 percent. There has been a downward shift (from 27 percent then to the current 18 percent) in the number who take a laissez-faire attitude toward smoking. And there has been a rise (from 46 percent to the current 58 percent) in the number who say they’d refuse an alcoholic drink if offered one at a party.

It’s not that there has been an across-the-board shift by teens and tweens toward older norms. The current survey (conducted October 2008-January 2009 by Harris Interactive) found a near doubling in the number agreeing that “gay and lesbian relationships are OK if that is a person’s choice”-from 31 percent in 1989 to 59 percent now.

The current survey’s girls were more likely than the boys (41 percent vs. 33 percent) to agree that “sex before marriage is never right because it is a sin.” But they were also more likely than the boys (65 percent vs. 54 percent) to agree that gay or lesbian relationships are acceptable.