By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study finds teens to be very conflicted about what types of behavior are appropriate in order to succeed in life. While most say they plan to make ethical decisions when they join the workforce, large numbers think its okay to lie to their parents, or to cheat in school in order to succeed.
The study was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Junior Achievement and Deloitte and surveyed 750 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age.
Among its many key findings, the study found that:
• Eighty percent of teens either somewhat or strongly agree that they are prepared to make ethical business decisions when they join the workforce, yet more than a third (38 percent) think that you have to break the rules at school to succeed.
• More than one in four teens (27 percent) think behaving violently is sometimes, often or always acceptable. Twenty percent of respondents said they had personally behaved violently toward another person in the past year, and 41 percent reported a friend had done so.
• Nearly half (49 percent) of those who say they are ethically prepared believe that lying to parents and guardians is acceptable, and 61 percent have done so in the past year.
• Teens feel more accountable to themselves (86 percent) than they do to their parents or guardians (52 percent), their friends (41 percent) or society (33 percent).
• More than half (54 percent) cite their parents as role models. Most of those who don’t cite their parents as role models are turning to their friends or said they didn’t have a role model.
• Only 25 percent said they would be “very likely” to reveal knowledge of unethical behavior in the workplace.
The study raises potential concerns for employers and the community at large. “If teens lack accountability to others, the data suggests that their choices may be driven purely by self-interest and not by interest in the greater good,” the authors write.
The absence of adult role models is also concerning because it leaves a “vacuum of ethical guidance” for teens who are entering adulthood.
“Teens seem to be experiencing a sense of ethical confusion and relativism — an endemic ethical attitude of ‘the ends justify the means’,” the authors write. “Given that in a few years these same individuals will be performing our hospital lab tests, repairing our cars, teaching our children and investing our money, the survey results raise concerns for employers about how ethically prepared their future workforce will be.”
The solution is to provide teens with training in ethical decision making and offer them role models who will help them understand not only how to make the right choices, but how those choices will impact their personal success and the success of the organizations they join.
“There is a troubling incongruence between the degree to which teens feel ethically prepared to enter the workforce, and the unethical behaviors in which they engage,” said David W. Miller, Ph.D., director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative.
“The survey results do prompt concerns about teens’ future workplace behavior and forecast serious challenges to businesses around how they will need to prepare and train these future leaders.”
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