Good News and Bad News 710.3

There’s good news and bad news in newly released data from a 2010 Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of more than 43,000 high school students.

The good news is that rates of stealing and cheating dropped about 5 percent since 2008. The bad news is that far too many high schoolers engage in dishonest conduct: 27 percent of the students admitted stealing from a store within the past year, and 60 percent said they cheated on an exam.

Twenty-one percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative, and 18 percent confessed they stole something from a friend.

More than two in five (42 percent) said they sometimes lie to save money.

As bad as these numbers are, it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America’s youth. More than one in four (26 percent) confessed they lied on at least one question on the survey. Experts agree that dishonesty on surveys usually is an attempt to conceal misconduct.

Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics. A whopping 92 percent said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 79 percent said that, “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

This data reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty in today’s young people, and that doesn’t bode well for the future when these youngsters become the next generation’s politicians and parents, cops and corporate executives, and journalists and generals.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 7

  1. Hi, I am a regular listener of this commentary section.
    Thank you very much for your hard work.
    I have two questions for you, Mr, Josephson.
    The first one is whether it is late for a 21 year old college kid to reform my character. I want to be a kind, gentle, honest man. I want my inner beauty to shine like the sun. Is it possible?
    The second one is what is happening in my heart in the following situation.
    I am in a college seminar of about 16 members and a teacher.
    We are assigned a legal problem by the teacher and do group work(like discussion, research etc) to come up with answers every day and once a week all the members get together and have a debate.
    However since I am not good at and don’t like the subject, and know that the members think that my legal knowledge and other skills(like writing, presentation, research skills etc) are so poor, when they ridicule me for my mistakes and shortcomings, I always try to defend myself by saying something like,”I did read this part at least” in response to “you didn’t read this, did ya?” by one of the members. Or in response to “You are so unmotivated. What happened to you?”, I said “Well, yeah but at least I read all the assigned papers everyday”, which is a sheer lie in this case. Which shows I went to the extreme where I tried to defend myself even by lying.
    And I should add that I hate the subject we are dealing with in the seminar and I don’t feel motivated at all.
    I’ve never committed these kinds of utterly dishonest acts and self protection tactics as memory serves. And I don’t know why I do this. Is it because my self-esteem was lowered to such an extent that my inner devil is rearing up to make me defend myself no matter what? Or are the incidents shown above some signs of serious ethical issues in my heart?
    And I’d like to know, Mr Josephson, how to treat this mental condition.
    This is it. Thank you very much for your attention and I am looking forward to your reply.
    Thank you.

  2. Dear Karl ~
    Please don’t give up the effort to transform your character. Yes, it is possible to change at any age. History, literature and mythology show quite a few examples. Benjamin Franklin made a list of 13 key characteristics to a strong character, and worked every minute of every day to improve on each point. We are human and make mistakes, but now is the most important moment, the person you’re with is the one to give your attention, and the right thing to do is to help the person you’re with, even if it’s only you. Every day and every choice gives us a new chance to improve.
    The constant attacks on your person, make it harder to stick to good behavior in a situation where your heart’s not in the work. If you must stay in an uninspiring course, make the best of it. Use it as a challenge to inspire better choices and stronger character each moment. Try to forgive the attacks of your fellows and do the work without defending yourself.
    It’s been a long time since I’ve lied about what made me late or things of that nature, but the temptation is there every time. It’s because I don’t want to let people down and because I want to be a better person, that I’m tempted to make up an excuse or say I did something I didn’t. It’s okay to make mistakes and okay to not be inspired. You can give yourself inspiration to do better while you’re in this situation. Do the best you can now, and move on as soon as you can reasonably do so.
    We can not be perfect, but striving for improvement makes it more likely that we will get better. Pat yourself on the back for the good choices and be honest about the bad ones without beating yourself up. The desire to be better can make you so, with constant awareness and a bit of effort to get in better habits.
    Your heart is in the right place. Nurture what’s good in it.
    Kind regards,

  3. As I read this, I kept wondering how we are going to infuse character education into our students. For years this has been something which is been a consideration for me. I have been in education for over 35 years and have experienced a variety of

  4. While I commend Stan for his concern, I’m sure it isn’t an educator’s job to “infuse character” into their students. That job must be done by the student’s parents. I see the educator’s role as one who provides support and lessons on ethics and character.
    Of cousre teaching character and ethical lessons swerves dangerously close to religious teachings – which of course are outlawed in our public schools…
    There is so much work to be done.

  5. Matt, you are absolutely corrent in that it is a parent’s job to teach their child character. I also agree that the educator’s role is to support and model lessons in character. The question I pose to you is, what if a large number of parents are not doing their job? I teach in a small, rural and poor town and we have generational poverty and all that goes with it, including lower ethical and character standards. As a teacher I feel responsible for at least showing these students that there is another way to live and giving them something to work toward. I do not preach, I do not even come close to religion. Since when is being honest, respectful and hard working a relgious belief? There are students in this world who might not ‘get it’ unless it is explicitly taught in the schools.

  6. I’m going to have to disagree with Matt. “It takes a village.” Infusing character may ‘ought’ to be done by parents, but I appreciate character being infused a stranger on the street. Lots of parents have no idea how to infuse character. Lots of teachers and even strangers do. Jump in where you can.

  7. Twould that it were so simple. But what of all those tckriy gray areas and unknown consequences of our actions.IF, by dumping our waste into the stream – as long as we get permission to do so – we are not lying or stealing, therefore, it’s okay? No. IF, by moving our factory to a third world nation that has more lax labor policies, we can chain our employees to their workstations to increase productivity (no more smoke breaks and the bathroom breaks are right in their pants), we have not lied nor stolen, it’s okay?No.Clearly, our businesses (and all of us) could always use some reminders of what is and isn’t ethical, what is and isn’t just. We can all do well to consider that our actions have consequences that may extend beyond our realm and, just because we didn’t INTEND to cause bad consequences, does not mean that we have no guilt in causing them.Seems to me.

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