It’s no secret that kids can be pretty self-absorbed. As they grow older and wiser, we hope they learn compassion and charity. We’re led to believe by the media that teens and young adults are incredibly service-oriented and easily adopt volunteerism. So by the time they get to high school, kids should be kind and concerned citizens, right?
Then why is the news filled with stories about bullying, cyber-bullying, and sexting? This morning I read this article about an Ohio high school that has witnessed 4 suicides linked to bullying. Then there is the well-publicized story of the Rutgers University student who killed himself after being targeted by his roommate and another student.
Why do studies indicate that teens lie, cheat and steal at alarming rates? And even worse, teens think they are honest and ethical in spite of this behavior. According to the Josephson Institute’s 2008 Ethics of American Youth survey
Despite these high levels of dishonesty, the respondents have a high self-image when it comes to ethics. A whopping 93% said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77% said that when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.
I find all this really disturbing. A whole generation is about to hit the workforce, the military, the political arena, and the world of parenting without a sense of right and wrong. Does it really matter if these kids diligently recycle or volunteer with Habitat for Humanity if they see nothing wrong with lying, plagiarizing, name-calling, and passing along hurtful texts?
In her recent column Marybeth Hicks proposes that the real problem in the Rutgers case had less to do with intolerance of the victim’s sexual preference and everything to do with the lack of conscience in many kids. I have to agree. I posted before (here) on the widespread failure of American society to accept moral absolutes anymore. I believe this trickles down in our families. Folks who don’t stand up for values in big-picture issues probably don’t put a lot of effort into everyday morality either. Trying to convince a child to be compassionate “just because” sounds pretty hollow. There has to be a value system behind the ideals of compassion and respect and honesty. Unfortunately, we as a society have become too afraid of embracing values systems because that seems too close to imposing my morality on someone else.
So while we fret about whether character education forces someone’s beliefs upon people, American children are growing up without a moral compass. Cheating on tests continues. The humiliating texts circle around. And kids are tormented by their classmates to the point of desperation. But at least they recycle.