Teenagers’ Ethical Lapses

Teenagers are strict moralists when passing judgment on the behavior of their elders. But this should not be taken to mean they’re reliably ethical in their own behavior. As is evident from the findings of a report issued this month by Deloitte and Junior Achievement, teens are prone to significant lapses of their own.

Respondents were asked to say whether they’d committed various misdeeds in the past year. Sixty-one percent of the 12-14-year-olds and the same proportion of the 15-17-year-olds said they’d lied to a parent or guardian within that period. Thirteen percent of the 12-14s and 33 percent of the 15-17s said they’d downloaded music illegally/without paying for it. Fifteen percent of the 12-14s and 21 percent of the 15-17s reported having cheated on a test. Many fewer said they’d stolen something from a store (3 percent of the 12-14s, 5 percent of the 15-17s).

Girls were as likely as boys to say they’ve lied to a parent or guardian, and weren’t significantly less apt to have stolen from a store or cheated on a test. But fewer girls than boys said they’ve downloaded music illicitly (18 percent vs. 28 percent).

If parents are dismayed by such findings (gathered in October polling), they may have themselves to blame. When asked to say who, if anyone, they regard as their “behavioral role model,” a majority of respondents (54 percent) cited their parents. Despite parental fear of peer-group pressure, just 13 percent cited their friends as role models. Others getting mentions included a teacher or coach (6 percent), a sibling (5 percent) and a clergyman (3 percent). Just 1 percent cited a celebrity/performer.