Youth Ethics – Troubling Yet Promising

John W. Arceneaux  |  10/29/2005 1:51:31 AM

News You Can Use For November 2005

A national survey of high school students reveals high levels of cheating, theft and cynicism, but those same students considered themselves ethical.

"The lying, cheating and stealing are troubling, but the fact youth believe in good moral character offers a foundation to build on," said LSU AgCenter 4-H and character education expert John Arceneaux.

Every two years the Josephson Institute of Ethics conducts a national ethics survey of high school students. The 2004 Report Card is the latest study and included 24,763 students.

Students in 85 schools throughout nation were surveyed – 45 percent public schools, 40 percent private religious schools and 15 percent private nonreligious schools. The survey was answered by an equal number of males and females.

Nearly two-thirds cheated on exams, and more than one in four stole from a store within the past 12 months. Additionally, 40 percent admit they "sometimes lie to save money."

Despite these admissions, the majority of students reported high self-appraisals of their character. Seventy-four percent rated their own ethics higher than those of their peers and stated their convictions that honesty, ethics and good character are very important. Almost all, 98 percent, said it is important for them to be a person of good character. What's more, most have unrealistically high self-images when it comes to ethics.

Asked, "If people you know were asked to list the most ethical people they know, how many would put you on their lists?" Eighty-three percent said at least half the people they know would list them. Additionally, 92 percent said they were satisfied with their ethics and character.

The inconsistency seems to be explained by high levels of cynicism about the ethics of successful people and the prevalence of cheating in the "real world." Cynicism is especially strong in young males. Two-thirds indicated a belief that "in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating." Fifty-two percent of the females agreed with this cynical assessment. In addition, 51 percent of the males agreed with, "A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed." Thirty-two percent of the female students expressed a similar view.

When asked to prioritize their values, most high school students expressed commitment to positive views. Ninety-one percent said it is very important to have trusting personal relationships, 88 percent said it is very important to treat others with respect and 84 percent said it is very important to have good moral character.

The ethics of American youth is troubling, but also offers an opportunity for character development, according to Arceneaux.

"Louisiana 4-H believes through today’s youth we can equip the next generation of parents, police officers, politicians, craftsmen, accountants, lawyers, doctors and all others with the ethics to be good citizens," the character expert said.

Contact your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit the Louisiana 4-H Web site to learn about the character education materials and services available through Louisiana 4-H.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

Source: John Arceneaux: (225)578-2424, or

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