Cheating and Lying? Teen Ethics – Junior Achievement’s Report and Comments by Chuck Gallagher Ethics Motivational Speaker


For a number of years Junior Achievement has conducted a nationwide teen ethics poll and this year is no different. Over a number of years one can begin to see trends with respect to choices and attitudes that teen make as part of their ethical decision making process.

Issued on December 5, 2007 the entire Junior Achievement/Deloitte survey follows:

Here’s a summary quoted from the Junior Achievement Poll:

  • 71% of the teens surveyed say they feel fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce.
  • 38% – however, believe that it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize or lie or even behave violently in order to succeed.
  • 24% of the teens surveyed think cheating on a test is acceptable at some level justified by their personal desire to succeed.
  • 23% of the teens surveyed think violence toward another person is acceptable on some level. The reasons violence is acceptable is settling an argument (27%) and revenge (20%).
  • More than a quarter (27 percent) of all teens surveyed said it is not fair for an employer to suspend or fire employees for unethical behavior outside of their jobs and another quarter (26 percent) said they weren’t sure if it was fair or not.
  • More than half (57 percent) of all teens surveyed believe it is not fair for employers to make hiring or firing decisions based on material they have posted to the internet and another 19 percent weren’t sure if it was fair or not.

Pressure to succeed is cited as one of the major motivations for a teen’s willingness to make unethical decisions. Certainly, having teen’s of my own, I see first hand the expectations that are placed on teens and the competition that they face to climb the ladder of success in a highly competitive world.

“The high percentages of teenagers who freely admit that unethical behavior can be justified is alarming,” said David Miller, Ph.D., executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Business Ethics, who reviewed the findings. “It suggests an attitude of ethical relativism and rationalization of whatever actions serve one’s immediate needs and purposes.

“This way of thinking will inevitably lead to unethical if not illegal actions that will damage individual lives and ruin corporate reputations,” he said.

This survey mirrored another report featured in the New York Times (see one of my earlier blogs) where young people had no real perception that activities on the internet had or should have any impact in “real world” situations. In fact, the Times article showed just how disconnected teens were when it came to their ethical behavior and downloading or sharing music.

Illustrating teens’ perception of different ethical standards for online versus “real world” behavior, nearly half (47 percent) of teens said it was acceptable on some level to illegally download music without paying for it, but only 5 percent said it was acceptable to steal something from a store.

There seems to be a real difference in what “Baby Boomer’s” define as ethical behavior in some areas and what teens feel is ethical today. While most will agree that ethical choices and morays change, the question today is how will the ethical choices and changes reshape our society as the teens move into adulthood?

If you have comments…feel free to join the discussion.

For now, Motivational Ethics speaker ( signing off…


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