Helping Scouts stick to their principles under pressure

Teaching your teens to do the right thing isn’t a game. Or maybe it should be.

The results of a 2008 Junior Achievement (JA) poll present a classic good news/bad news scenario.

The good news? Nearly 80 percent of teens surveyed said they felt “fully prepared to make ethical decisions” when they join the workforce.

The bad news? More than 60 percent admitted to lying to their parents, while a significant number had illegally downloaded music (23 percent), behaved violently toward another person (20 percent), or cheated on a test (18 percent).

You can read more results But that disconnect between belief and behavior offers Boy Scout and Venturing leaders both a challenge and an opportunity.

If we can help teens understand why they’re acting against what they believe, perhaps we can help them better align their words and actions.

First, though, we need to understand the disconnect.

Why Teens Betray Their Beliefs

There are plenty of reasons why teens don’t act as ethically as they think they should. But the No. 1 reason is pressure—pressure to succeed, pressure to please others, pressure to get more done in less time.

Consider, for example, the top three reasons teens in the JA survey said plagiarism was acceptable: not enough time to do the assignment (72 percent), a personal desire to succeed in school (70 percent), and pressure from parents to succeed in school (63 percent).

Peers, on the other hand, were much less of a factor. Only 24 percent said plagiarism is acceptable because “everyone else” does it, while just 15 percent cited peer pressure as a reason.

Jammed Up

To demonstrate how outside pressure affects decision-making, play “Traffic Jam.” The object of this game is to have players split into two teams, with three or more players on each team. Each player stands on a piece of paper, and there’s one piece of paper in the middle.

Start by having the teams face each other on the spaces. Keep some Scouts or Venturers out of the game to serve as cheerleaders; privately explain their role before the game starts. The teams must now trade places, following these rules:

  • A player may only step onto an adjacent empty space or step around a person from the other team onto an empty space.
  • Players may not move backward.
  • Players may not step around their own teammates.
  • Two players may not move at once.

Start the game and let play proceed for a few minutes. Then, have the Scouts or Venturers who aren’t playing pressure the players by criticizing their moves or commenting on how easy the game is. (Don’t let these comments get out of hand.)

After a few more minutes, announce that the players have just two minutes to complete the exercise. Stop the game when time is up, and then gather the group to debrief. Use these questions as a starting point, but let the discussion go where the group takes it:

  • How did the pressure from the cheerleaders affect your performance?
  • How did the time limit affect your performance?
  • Would you have performed better or worse if you’d been playing to win a prize? To avoid a punishment?
  • How has your behavior in school been affected by pressure from others? By time constraints? By the prospect of a reward or a punishment?
  • Have you ever been tempted to do something you knew was wrong because of outside pressure? How did you respond?
  • If you gave in to pressure, how might you have responded more ethically?
  • What techniques can teens use to resist pressures that tempt them to behave unethically?

ON THE WEB: Junior Achievement, in collaboration with Deloitte LLP, has created a comprehensive Excellence through Ethics curriculum, which is available free online High school session 4 includes a role-playing game that deals with ethics under pressure.


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