Editor's Note: Teens And Ethics--It's Like, You Know, A Challenge
Teen-agers. Chances are you either have one living in your house, have a few in your extended family, or know one from the neighborhood. Maybe you work for a company that sells products--clothes, cars, software, electronics--to the teen market, and you know something about their preferences, habits, priorities, and technology-use patterns. If not, it's time to start doing your homework.
As you'll see in this week's cover story by senior editor Eileen Colkin, the way some teens use technology is challenging ethical boundaries and business models. This is a generation that's extremely comfortable with PCs, PDAs, wireless technologies, the Internet, new media, downloading music, tinkering, experimenting, exploring, and more. Some feel their parents are clueless about such issues, and that creates tension. In the words of one teen, "If they'd grown up with the same technology we have now, they wouldn't be imposing their rules on us."
Do we as parents, teachers, or employers try to force this tech-savvy generation to abide by existing ethical standards? Or must we be more flexible and adapt, change, or grow in our way of thinking to better accommodate their ideas and ways of thinking? What's inside their brains, after all, could lead to better products, new business models, or improvements in existing business models. I'm not suggesting that teens are all-knowing, but they'll do a lot to shape future business. Just look at how downloadable music has changed traditional business models.
The discussion reminded me of something C.K. Prahalad, professor at the University of Michigan and a highly regarded corporate strategist, has said about collaboration. Engaging your customers in your product and business plans can lead to significant value creation. In Prahalad's words, "Companies that fail to recognize and embrace this new role of the consumer and put consumers at the active center of the business universe do so at their own peril."
The same argument could be extended to teens. I'm not suggesting that you hire them as part of your product-development team, but this isn't a time to ignore their ideas, expectations, and habits. Rather, it's a time to embrace them and learn from them. In my opinion (here comes the parental side of me!), this also isn't a time for teens to ignore ethical standards. There's a difference between right and wrong, legal and illegal, good and bad, and acceptable and unacceptable. With the guidance of parents, teachers, and employers, ethical standards should be discussed and enforced while also keeping an open mind to a new way of doing things. Let us know what you think.
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