Do Kids Possess Honesty and Integrity?

Here is a list of shocking statistics (at least I hope they are shocking) about high school students from the author Betsy Hart:

  • “more than a quarter admitted stealing from a store,”
  • “almost as many [a quarter of the students surveyed] admitted stealing from a relative in the previous year,”
  • “82 percent said they ‘lied to a parent about something significant,'”
  • “60 percent admitted to cheating on a test in school during the previous year,”
  • “one-third of the kids reported that they ‘used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment,'”
  • 92 “percent said they were ‘satisfied with my own ethics and character,'” and
  • “74 percent said ‘when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.'”

Scary! Dishonesty is becoming the norm, but guilt about a lack of integrity is on the decline. What does this say about our society?

Betsy Hart primarily blames the parents. I tend to agree for the most part, though I don’t let society as a whole slide on this one. Still, parents have more influence than I ever could.

Here’s a story I tell my students about ethical behavior and honesty:

Johnny, a 6 year-old kindergartener, has learned about what to do to become an honest person. He role plays returning a found wallet to the owner, discusses what to do when seeing someone drop something, and writes stories about how it feels to lose something. He knows stealing is wrong and lying makes people not trust him. This goes on for a week of lessons, and the teacher beams at her angels leaving the room for the weekend. Johnny’s dad decides to take Johnny to a movie and sees that kids 5 and under get in free. He leans over to Johnny and whispers “you’re five today.” Everything Johnny learned in school dissipates. Johnny just learned lying is profitable.

To continue the story:

While driving along the highway after the movie Johnny’s father mutters, upon seeing a squad car ahead, “Oops, a cop. I have to slow down.” Johnny, in the back seat, just learned that it’s ok to break rules and laws if he isn’t caught.

While I don’t believe parents are completely at fault, I do think they could help. I regularly see and hear parents lie for their students to avoid detentions, call in false excused absences, and complete their child’s homework. It’s frustrating for me, but it’s (a new?) reality.

4 thoughts on “Do Kids Possess Honesty and Integrity?

  1. mrschili

    I don’t know how new it is – my parents weren’t above lying to get something they wanted (though woe befall us if WE lied to get something WE wanted!).

    I know for sure that my actions speak FAR louder than my words, and I try to be mindful, all the time, that my children are always watching. The other day, we left the store with something under the cart. We all went back in to the store so I could pay for it. It matters…

  2. kweenmama

    I agree with you. Much of what kids learn is modeled by the parents. I know of one divorced mom who repeatedly helps her kids lie to their father. I can’t help wondering what kind of adults the kids are going to become.

  3. Betty

    Sometimes I think that teenagers fall into habits like cheating and stealing because they think it is cool and accepted by their friends. I’m not sure times have changed all that much, because a lot of kids did the same things back when I was in school. I do agree that parents need to set good examples for their children. If parents respect the feelings and belongings of others, their children have a better chance of becoming successful adults.

  4. Pingback: Plagiarism & Rewrites « The Doc Is In

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