Teenagers’ dishonesty

A new study reveals the extent to which high school students are lying, stealing, and cheating.

Overall, 30 percent of students admitted to stealing from a store within the past year, a two percent rise from 2006. More than one third of boys (35 percent) said they had stolen goods, compared to 26 percent of girls.

An overwhelming majority, 83 percent, of public school and private religious school students admitted to lying to their parents about something significant, compared to 78 percent for those attending independent non-religious schools.

“Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse,” the study found. Amongst those surveyed, 64 percent said they had cheated on a test, compared to 60 percent in 2006. And 38 percent said they had done so two or more times.

Despite no significant gender differences on exam cheating, students from non-religious independent schools had the lowest cheating rate, 47 percent, compared to 63 percent of students attending religious schools. . . .

“As bad as these numbers are, it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America’s youth,” the study warned, noting than more than a fourth of the students (26 percent) admitted they had lied on at least one or two of the survey questions.

“Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics.”

Some 93 percent of students indicated satisfaction with their own character and ethics, with 77 percent saying that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

It would be easy to say that young people who are taught that there is no truth should, logically, have no compunction about lying. But students at RELIGIOUS schools are WORSE than students at non-religious private schools when it comes to cheating, just a percentage point below students in public schools.

What can be done?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Ryan

    Hmm… I suspect the religious school rates are higher because the students may be MORE honest. Regardless, the lying rate is 100%. As for cheating this is unfortunate, but does the survey count how often a student cheats. For example I freely admit trying to cheating about three times in my elementary-high school career… (only once in High School on a advanced chemistry exam, but I actually did not get an answer, the old looking over the neighbor’s shoulder for an answer on one question). This was wrong and I have repented of this behavior, but now I am in the dishonest statistic, or should it be honest since I admit this sin?

    Plagiarism on the other-hand is on a serious rise. I’m not sure how to stem the tide in college.

  • kerner

    Does this take into account all the free food they give away to their friends at the fast food joints that employ them?

  • Kirk

    I think it has a lot to do with the self-actualization movement turning children into little narcissists. When improving your self-image becomes paramount, why should virtues like honesty and diligence standing in your way?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    “What can be done?”

    Nothing. The horse is out of the gate.(as far as this culture and educational environment goes)

    Preach the law and the gospel to them…remind them of what hapened to them in their baptisms…and pray for them.

  • Don S

    I think Ryan @ 1 is on to something regarding the kids in religious schools. As for the overall problem, the teaching of an absolute standard of morality would help a great deal. Of course, we are all sinners, and it is only the grace of God, through Christ’s sacrifice, and the working of the Holy Spirit which can work righteousness in us here on this Earth.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Hmm…this study just doesn’t ring true for me. How do I know, from this study, that things are truely worse than when I was a teenager in high school? Even the institute’s founder admits that he doesn’t know for sure that things are worse,

    “Josephson also addressed the argument that today’s youth are no less honest than their predecessors.

    “In the end, the question is not whether things are worse, but whether they are bad enough to mobilize concern and concerted action,” he said.

    “What we need to learn from these survey results is that our moral infrastructure is unsound and in serious need of repair. This is not a time to lament and whine but to take thoughtful, positive actions.”

    I think that today’s parents (including myself) are way more involved in their teen’s lives that my parents ever were. I lied about many things, as a normal teen, but no one ever knew. Today, my son’s papers are scanned through an internet computer program so he has no chance of ever copying, any incidence of cheating or suspected cheating is dealt with harshly (as it should by, but still way more harshly than my teen years). If needed, I am able to read my kids emails, text messages and Facebook pages. I can find out exactly who they call and when on my phone bill each month. I suspect that my kids don’t lie more than I did as a teen; I’m just way more aware of it. My parents – great parents by anyone’s standard – continue to be amazed by me and my siblings stories of things they never knew we did as teens!

    My daughter attended a private Christian school (Lutheran) for six years. Each year, a few new kids would appear for a few weeks, having been sent their by their parents in a last ditch effort to save their child. It was not uncommon for a parent to remark to me that they were shocked that our students weren’t better Christians. They were surprised to see normal sinful human behavior – lying, gossiping, pride, cheating, etc. What they often missed was the loving law and gospel approach, given individually, to each student by a wonderfully trained staff.

    My defense, my aid, cannot come at the hands of the school teaching the Character Counts curriculum that the Institute writes. My help comes from bringing my kids to God’s Word and reinforcing it in their lives. The Law says we are all sinners (and liars) and are bound to hell with no hope. The Gospel says that Jesus died for our sins (and lies) and provided a way to heaven. Living thankfully in grace at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will keep my teens (and me) from lying, cheating or stealing.

    I am not against any character education program, but it doesn’t provide any motivation for why we would choose to act honorably…nor any explanation for why an otherwise nice student might one day fall to the temptation of lying or cheating. Scripture gives us those answers, not Character Counts.

  • Ben Franks

    One other thing to remember is that the term “Religious schools” covers a lot of ground. I am now homeschooled but I spent my freshman year at a private Baptist school in Tampa Florida. Many of my fellow students came from inner-city families where dishonesty, cheating, and self-gratification were a way of life. Although many of them claimed Christ, few exhibited Him in any more than a cultural way. However, most statisticians would look at the religious orientation of their school and peg them as being of the same belief. Keep in mind that “religious people” often aren’t Christian people.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    What can be done?
    You catch them cheating, that would be the first step. Then you punish them accordingly. That is what teachers did when I went to school. Oh, and they caught me both at public school and parochial school. Took me a while to develop scruples I guess.

  • JLarson

    So how does this fit with the two well-known statistics that 48 percent of people lie on surveys and 23 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot…?

  • Manxman

    Impeach Presidents when they perjure themselves.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    If you want to persuade kids not to cheat, probably the best thing to do is to call “baloney” when prominent adults tell flat out lies. My favorite recent example is Ron Gettelfinger of the UAW telling the press that UAW labor is “competitive” with non-union labor, despite the fact that it’s about twice as expensive for what the Detroit Three actually get out of them vs. what Toyota, Nissan, and Honda get from their U.S. workers.

    Until adults are held accountable for lies, you won’t be able to do a thing about kids lying. They learn better than you would think.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Amen, Bike.

    Parents and adults in our culture have just as big a lying and cheating problem as our youth, if not more so. And the first place to start is with yourself. And then when you encounter an adult friend or family member cheating, then hold them accountable in a nice way. Good luck!

    Good stern law and consequences, coupled with repentance and Christian forgiveness work wonders in this area.

  • William

    Good suggestions above. I often suspect that work and study discipline is seriously lacking in our youth. The drive to cheat is usually less about wanting to cheat, but more about panic at having not adequately prepared for the exam due to bad work and study habits (of which could result from either not being taught by their parents or the low standards of public education).

  • Paul E.

    So does this mean I shouldn’t tell my kids the “lie” about Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc? Because this is starting them off at an early age that lying is acceptable and the norm. I have a hard time dealing with these lies, which I will call “quasi-lies” for the lack of a better term. Or is this just a form of story-telling?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Jesus said all men are liars.

    It is disturbing though, that cheating, lying, stealing, are losing the accompanying shame from doing it.

    My niece braggs about the different ways she and her co-workers shirk their duties. It is a badge of honor to get away with things.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    Perhaps dishonest children are found in religious schools for the same reason that dirty cars are found at car washes and shaggy people are found at barber shops.

  • Nemo

    Perhaps, but it looks like in this case the cars leaving the car wash are still dirty, and the shaggy people are leaving the barber shop unshorn (to continue your analogy).

  • The Jones

    I don’t really put much value in surveys like this, especially since the survey ITSELF said that it is inaccurate around 26% of the time (the “did you lie on this survey question).

    I also agree with Ryan @1 talking about the honestly part of the survey. Although personally, I believe the cause is the empty hole in our culture where “There are some things you just don’t do because it’s wrong” used to reside. This “honor system” existed in both religious and non-religious circles (the military, for instance), but it’s waning in both. Everybody wants a REASON not to do bad things (how about “because they’re bad”) and then they actively seeks ways to get around all the reasons that are offered.

    Sort of a pragmatic relativism.

  • Kelly

    If there were ways of making it more difficult for kids to lie and cheat and get away with it, that might help in some cases. Lying and cheating are both very secret and sneaky sins that can be justified by thinking that it won’t really hurt anyone, and that no one will ever know anyway. Showing the consequences of these behaviors and being serious about it is a good thing.

    Both lying and cheating are about keeping up appearances and hiding some deficiency, real or perceived. Find out what kids’ reasons for lying and cheating are in these particular cases and deal with them case-by-case.

  • GreatRon

    Christian school teacher speaking.

    With respect to Bryan, have you ever tried to “prosecute” a student you believe to have cheated? Good luck with that. Making those charges stick is harder than going to court. And if you succeed, you face:

    First, the “not my child” problem. It’s universal.

    Second, if you do move forward with such an action, Christian schools find themselves struggling with the unfortunate, but basic fact that we are dealing with the children of Christian families that do not understand (and hence do not utilize) biblical child training principles. Hence, you shan’t receive much support in that quarter. Which leads to…

    Third, the administration at the school probably won’t back you up, or will back peddle such that you, the teacher, will still look like the ultra-unforgiving-authoritarian-discipline monger. This, I assure you, is not a good image for job security.

    Now, if this is what it is like in a Christian school, you can imagine for yourself what our public school teachers face. They also get sued.

    In accounting for the decreased rates of cheating at non-religious private schools, that is actually quite simple. Those tend to be the more prestigious, highly competitive schools with long waiting lists. They have the luxury of saying “our way or the highway”, and the students either conform or loose their spot. Our Christian schools especially, by and large, operate on the verge of perpetual bankruptcy – we shouldn’t pretend that doesn’t affect the way an administrator approaches discipline issues.

    Fixing it? Character education of all sorts (including the kind with Christian lingo) is band-aid level repair. Necessary perhaps (we do want to stop the bleeding after all), but it is only skin deep. You have to trace the problem back to the roots. First, Christian families have (for the most part) abandoned sound, biblical child rearing practices in favor of the pop-cultural norms of the late 20th century. But even this is merely symptomatic of the real problem, the root, the heartbeat of the thing: the church isn’t doing it’s job. It is not training its congregants to raise Christian families; it does not discipline; it does not truly require members to conform to a biblical standard and to do so with accountability.

    And if the Church won’t do it, why should we expect families or the schools they attend to be any better? The Church has to be the driving engine here; all edifices not built on that solid rock are, well, you know the song.

  • Nemo

    GreatRon,

    Actually, my father has taught in both the private (Christian) schools and a public school. He actually gets more administrative support in disciplining students in the public school than he did in the Christian school (unlike the Christian school, the public school doesn’t have to be afraid to not step on the toes of too many church families).

  • Don S

    GreatRon @ 20: Boy, I think you really hit the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing from your experience.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I think Nemo hit the nail on the head there: (unlike the Christian school, the public school doesn’t have to be afraid to not step on the toes of too many church families).


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