It has long been my contention that children who grew up in the 1950s and '60s were much better behaved than today's kids.
Don't misunderstand me. We were far from perfect. We misbehaved, of course, but most of the bad stuff we did was nothing more than mischievous, especially when compared with what kids are doing today.
It is significant to note the teen crime rate, across the socioeconomic spectrum, has soared since the '60s and that today's teen criminals are committing what were once considered adults-only crimes: rape, murder, assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, drug peddling and so on.
Like I said, we were mischievous -- and covert. We tried to get away with misbehavior when adults weren't looking and hopefully wouldn't find out.
School administrators and teachers tell me today's kids don't really seem to care if they're caught. This is because, I'm told, they have no fear of adults or consequences. I suppose this is because adults no longer give children reason to fear them or what they might do.
Today's kids' excuses
We also knew when we had misbehaved. Take cheating, for example. If a kid in 1965 -- the year I graduated from high school -- cheated on a test, he knew what he had done was wrong, wrong, wrong.
If caught, he wouldn't have said to the teacher, "Hey, I cheat because that's what you have to do if you want to get into a good college."
Believe it or not, that's what today's kids often say when they're caught cheating. A recent study conducted by Donald McCabe, the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity at Rutgers University, found that almost three out of four high school students from around the United States report having cheated on a major test and-or plagiarized.
McCabe found that few of these kids have any shame or regret. "You do what it takes to succeed in life," wrote one cheater. Another who plagiarized several sources for a paper on "Macbeth" said, "Remorse just slows you down." That's more than a bit scary.
Today's cheaters also note that when others are caught, nothing of consequence happens. When I was in school -- 300 years ago, it seems -- if you cheated in a class, you probably flunked the class.
Your parents wouldn't have hired a lawyer to defend your "rights." If you cheated on a final exam, you might have been expelled.
Today, kids who cheat are often simply made to take another form of the test or rewrite the plagiarized paper. The worst that usually happens to a student who cheats is he/she receives a zero on the assignment in question.
How bad things are
I didn't cheat because I was afraid -- petrified is more like it -- of what would happen if I was caught. Today, what's to fear? In fact, a teacher who has the nerve to give a cheater a failing grade might wind up in trouble.
Noooo, you say. Yes. That's what happened in Kansas during school year 2001-02. When a high school English teacher failed nearly two dozen students for plagiarizing from the Internet, their parents complained. The superintendent forced the teacher to give the kids good grades. She resigned.
The problem really isn't kids. Kids have always tried to get away with what they could. The problem is adults who are having a problem saying cheating is just plain wrong, that there is no excuse for it.
For example, in a Washington Post article on cheating, a reporter wrote that today's students "haven't become moral reprobates in a generation." Rather, the problem is that the Internet makes it too easy to cheat. "Who could resist?" she concludes.
That's insane. The fact is, one out of four students resists, which goes to prove, the problem is not the Internet.
The problem is that an awful lot of today's kids are indeed moral reprobates who think, as do all criminals, that the end justifies the means.
And, an awful lot of today's adults are just too darned chicken to stand up to America's epidemic of kid crime.
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, Ind. 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/ on the Internet.