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Character Study
A critical look at the ethics of the modern teen.
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"I have always considered myself a principled and moral person, but in recent years at school I've begun joining in with the the rest of the "in" crowd in ignoring/insulting the outcasts. I consciously hate myself for it but when I do it I get included. I spent 3 years as the one being picked on and have become very insecure in who I am, I would do almost anything to avoid that."
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The preliminary results of the 2000 "Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth" are in and the results aren't encouraging. The survey is conducted every two years by the Josephson Institute as part of it's "Character Counts" campaign. It boasts a small margin of error, only +/- 3 %. In 1998, 20,829 students (10,760 high school and 10,069 middle school students) answered the survey which asked questions about everything from relationships, to school habits, to theft and violence. The results then were shocking with 7 out of 10 students reporting that they had cheated on a test at least once in a 12 month period, and 73% admitting to lying repeatedly. Not much seems to have changed since that 1998 survey.

The 2000 preliminary results show some startling trends:

  • Cheating
    71% of all high school students admit they cheated on an exam at least once in the past 12 months (45% said they did so two or more times).

  • Lying
    92% lied to their parents in the past 12 months (79% said they did so two or more times); 78% lied to a teacher (58% two or more times); more than one in four (27%) said they would lie to get a job.

  • Stealing
    40% of males and 30% of females say they stole something from a store in the past 12 months.

  • Drunk at School
    Nearly one in six (16%) say they have been drunk in school during the past year (9% said they were drunk two or more times).

  • Propensity Toward Violence
    68% say they hit someone because they were angry in the past year (46% did so at least twice), and nearly half (47%) said they could get a gun if they wanted to (for males: 60% say they could get a gun).

Are today's youth really in a state of moral decay? What do all these statistics mean? Well, for starters, they mean that something has to change! Attitudes like these are shocking in any age group but when they come from young people they are also heartbreaking. Aside from the fact that the attitudes shown by today's youth directly shape what the world will become in the future, when we see statistics like these it shows that the adults of today aren't doing their job properly. Somewhere along the way youth are feeling lost, confused, let down and alienated. Results like this don't just speak for the character of a generation, they are testimony to the way that adults represent the world to the younger generation. It shows the sort of example being set in the culture at large.

It is very easy to point fingers at media, celebrities, divorced or single parents, working mothers, and "liberal" attitudes toward things like sex, drugs and alcohol. Much too easy. But the things that disenfranchise youth and lead them astray are rarely that simple. In fact, the tactic of laying blame at convenient targets usually only makes the problem worse. Whether adults want to accept it or not, teens like "their" celebrities, "their" TV programs, music and movies, and "their" culture. The things that are popular are popular because teens are drawn to them, not because divorce rates are high or women are in the workforce. Instead of laying blame, adults should try listening to youth. It is a proven fact that when adults listen, when there is an open dialogue between parent and teen, issues are better resolved and compromises more readily reached. If attitudes like those demonstrated in the Josephson Institute survey are to be reversed an open and honest dialogue between adults and youth must occur.

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