Poll: Only 3 Percent of Teens See Clergy as Role Models

Out of 100 American teens, only three are likely to say they see members of the clergy as role models, according to a survey on teens and ethical decision making.

Scarcely any teens (those under age 18) view their pastors, priests, rabbis or imams as role models. Instead, many reported seeing their parents as role models (54 percent), the survey conducted by Junior Achievement and Deloitte showed.

Friends (13 percent), teachers or coaches (6 percent), and siblings (5 percent) also beat out clergies as role model figures.

Just slightly more than one in ten (11 percent) say they don't have any role models.

But the poll's major finding is that although the overwhelming majority of teens (80 percent) believe they are ethically prepared to make moral business decisions, nearly 40 percent believe they need to "break the rules" in order to succeed.

More than one in four teenagers (27 percent) think behaving violently is sometimes, often or always acceptable, according to the poll. One in five teens (20 percent) reported to have personally behaved violently toward another person in the past year.

Furthermore, among those who say they are ethically prepared for business, nearly half (49 percent) say lying to parents and guardians is acceptable. More than three out of five teens (61 percent) say they have lied to their parents or guardian this past year.

"There is a troubling incongruence between the degree to which teens feel ethically prepared to enter the workforce, and the unethical behaviors in which they engage," commented David W. Miller, director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative and professor of business ethics at Princeton University, according to JA Worldwide.

"The survey results do prompt concerns about teens' future workplace behavior and forecast serious challenges to businesses around how they will need to prepare and train these future leaders," he added.

As part of the solution to the problem, Junior Achievement and Deloitte developed "JA Business Ethics," which provides hands-on classroom activities and real-life applications to foster ethical decision making before students enter the workforce. The students compare how their beliefs measure up to major ethics theories and learn the benefits of having a code of ethics.

"The results of the survey reveal considerable ethical relativism among teens and raises questions about their ability to make good decisions later in life," said Sean C. Rush, president and CEO of JA Worldwide. "We're understandably concerned about these results but recognize that they do point to a major learning opportunity."

The youth-oriented organization commented that the results also raise the question of why adults are not viewed as role models by more American teens and what can be done to change this.

Junior Achievement, the world's largest organization working to prepare youths to succeed in the global market, conducted the survey on 750 teens across the United States on Oct. 9-12, 2008, with the help of Deloitte, an international network of consulting firms.