Teens Today Feel Overwhelming Pressure to Succeed


Entering into the teen years is one of the most stressful times of life. The adolescent years are filled with emotions, changes, and added responsibilities. Many teenagers today feel an overwhelming pressure to succeed, according to the Teen Ethics Poll, and more than one in ten think they must cheat to achieve success.

The poll of 787 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 conducted in 2006 found that 44% of teens say they feel strong pressure to succeed and the pressure is felt more often by girls than boys. Eight in ten students feel that success is important, no matter what the cost and that it does not improve once someone gets out of school and into the workforce.

Unfortunately, that pressure to succeed leads to dishonesty and unethical behaviors, such as cheating on tests, plagiarizing, stealing, or behaving violently toward another person. Nearly four in 10 teens who responded to the poll feel that there are times that felt this pressure, although thankfully, the vast majority knew that it was ethically unacceptable and only 185 admitted to succumbing to the pressure and cheating on a test.

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Pressure for children comes from many sources: peer pressure from those around them, parents, teachers, close family members, and societal influences such as television and online media. Students also felt time constraints could lead to a reason to cheat or plagiarize.

Denise Clark Pope from Stanford University said that developmentally, teenagers find it difficult to see the long-term consequences of their choices. They respond instead to the immediate pressures to succeed. “It’s not that they don’t know right from wrong,” she said. “It’s that they see themselves as having no choice. They’ll say, ‘It’s not cheating, it’s survival.’

Vice president of JA Worldwide, one of the companies that conducted the online survey, said that the poll results point to the need for stronger ethics educations in the schools. “It is discouraging that kids seem to feel that it doesn’t matter how they get from point A to point B as long as they get a good grade,” said John M Box. The company has started a program called “Excellence through Ethics”, an educational program that can be taught as early as fourth grade to encourage students to make ethical decisions in life.

“It’s important that kids understand that there are ethical decisions they are going to have to make all of their lives. The habits of making those decisions don’t come by accident. They need nurturing, and opportunities for kids to reflect on how they behave.”



This Ethics program means well, but misses the point. We teenagers already been told to be ethical, not to cheat, etc. We'll pass your course, and then most of us will get right back to business. And for most of us, that means that if ethics get in the way of a good grade, we'll shove ethics out the window. Perhaps changing the system as a whole to make it so that cheating is unnecessary and non-beneficial to students would be a more effective route, even though it takes far more effort and time.