I Cheat, but I’m More Ethical than Most

“I’m very honest!

By the way… can I copy your homework?”

A revealing report has just been released about the ethical standards (or lack there of) of U.S. high school students. In the past year, 30% of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64% have cheated on a test, according to a recent survey of 29,760 randomly selected students at 100 randomly selected high schools.

The results conclude that today’s young people are less honest than previous generations. Some educators are speculating that it is because of the intensified pressures, “prompting many students to cut corners.”

Here’s just a snippet of some of the survey findings:

• Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38% did so two or more times, up from 60% and 35% in a 2006 survey.

• Thirty-five percent of boys and twenty-six percent of girls stole something from a store.

• Twenty percent said they stole something from a friend.

• Twenty-three percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.

• Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33% in 2004.

• Forty-two percent said they sometimes lie to save money — 49% of the boys and 36% of the girls.

Despite such responses, 93% of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% affirmed that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

In our podcast this past May we interviewed some student leaders about the subject of integrity, asking them about the temptation of cheating. Their candid responses were quite revealing. It’s evident that even our “best” church kids struggle with this.

David and I both have talked about this in various speaking venues in the last year. More than often we’ll do an “on the spot” survey and ask the audience of kids to raise their hands if they’ve cheated in the last few years. The numbers of hands raised are always above 90 percent (these are church kids, mind you). Last weekend David did this with a smaller group in his home church and 23 out of 25 students raised their hands (that they have cheated in some way in the last few years).

But I like the study above, especially the fact that it examines the numbers of “current” cheaters (cheaters who cheated in the last year), as opposed to those who have cheated “ever.” We’ve seen a lot of those “lifetime cheaters” reports and their numbers are much higher. I think it’s revealing (and depressing) enough to see that 64% have cheated this year alone. We don’t need to rely on alarmist stats. The situation is already dire (I like the Center for Disease Control’s methods they use in their surveys- providing “lifetime” and “current” stats. For example: they report how many people have “ever” taken a drink, compared to “current” drinkers- those who have drank in the last 30 days, and “binge drinkers,” clearly defining the difference).

I think the most revealing part of the above study is the fact that 77% affirmed that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.” This sounds like the quote from “the voice of this generation” Kanye West: “I definitely have conflicts. Am I able to walk like I’m Jesus Christ? No, but I do a lot more right than wrong.”

Hmmmmmmm.

(here’s the link to the actually study from the Josephson Institute. ht to David, Ypulse and YS for the links to that USA Today article and the Associated Press article. )

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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One Response to I Cheat, but I’m More Ethical than Most

  1. jon says:

    i have been disturbed by my kid’s willingness to cheat on school work. the way i would describe their attitude is, “if i’m smart enough to get away with it, then i’ve earned the grade.” it’s kind of like cheering for the thief in The Italian Job, and they’re the thief. nobody gets hurt, the victom will get insurance money. “my cheating doesn’t hurt anyone, my teacher will be fine.”
    that 93% that are fine with their ethics is really the killer. we have been dealing with a man at my church that really wants to get saved, but we can’t get him lost. He knows something is wrong, but he still thinks he’s just too good of a guy to really need the kind of help Jesus is offering.
    the Challenge with this 93% is getting them to understand that there is a standard to live up to and they have fallen short. If you can establish the Bible as the source of absolute truth then the battle is won. the catch is that decision is solely theirs and must come by faith.