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Parenting Solutions: Cheating

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

The Problem

Red Flags

Copies test answers, sends or receives test answers via text message, plagiarizes a report from the Internet or other source, downloads quiz answers onto her iPod to listen to during a test, gives or sells homework to friends

The Change to Parent For

Your child understands the value of honesty and effort and adopts those virtues in her daily behavior

Question: "Last night my twelve-year-old son showed me the A on his math test. I was really proud of him, figuring he had studied so hard. Then I noticed that he'd printed the answers on his hand. When I confronted him, he said that everybody else was doing the same thing and that it's no big deal so I shouldn't get so work up about it. Well, I happen to think it is a big deal—he cheated! So now what?"

Answer: My strongest piece of advice to parents on cheating is often the hardest one for them to follow through on: if you catch your kid cheating, don't let him take the good grade, blame his school, or excuse it as "something everyone else does." Instead, call the teacher and make your kid face the consequences. The short-term pain will be worth the long-term benefit to his character. Believe me, that one lesson is far more memorable and powerful than all the lectures and punishments. Let your child know you are serious about being honest, and then back up your words with your actions.

Why Change?

Concerned about your kid cheating? Well, you are not alone. Data clearly confirm that cheating is on the rise. Since 1969, the percentage of high school students who admitted to cheating on a test increased from 34 percent to 68 percent.5 The 2002 Ethics of American Youth survey discovered that three of four high school students admitted to cheating on at least one test during the previous year, and 37 percent admitted they would lie to perspective employers in order to get a good job.6 Cheating in school has also reached sophisticated new levels. Gone are the days when students tucked meticulously written crib notes inside their pants legs and coughed specially designed codes to peers. Pagers and cell phone text messages instantly transmit test answers without the hassle of note passing (and getting caught!). Plagiarism from the Internet has become so rampant that many teachers have to rely on a specially designed Web site to scan their students' papers to validate originality.

Make no mistake: cheating goes against the grain of integrity and solid character. After all, cheaters aren't concerned about whether their conduct was fair or how it affected others. Usually their biggest fret is worrying about whether they will get caught. Cheating is all about cutting corners and taking the easy way out. The good news is that parents do play a significant role in nurturing the virtues of honesty, integrity, and accountability in their kids. Let's just make sure we use that role wisely so that our kids do turn out right and this epidemic of cheating is stopped.

Late-Breaking News

Watch Out for Organized Sports!

Those sports teams we hope are helping our kids become better people may not be doing the job. A two-year study of 5,275 high school athletes by the Los Angeles–based Josephson Institute of Ethics found rather shocking results.7 Two-thirds of the athletes confessed to cheating on a test at least once in the previous school year (compared with 60 percent of the rest of the student population). Boys cheated more, and football players were the worst. Most also felt that it was okay for their coach to teach them ways to cut corners and cheat so that the referees couldn't detect their illegal moves and their team would have a better chance of winning. Another study found that hockey coaches in particular encouraged aggressive, bully-like behavior in the players and taught kids to challenge a referee's call if they were losing the game. The lesson here: don't just drop your kid off at practice without turning up your honesty radar and tuning in to what the coach is emphasizing. And while you're at it, make sure your own expectations for your child emphasize honesty, fairness, and teamwork and not a win-at-any-cost (including cheating) mentality.

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