Parenting Solutions: Cheating (page 2)
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.
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.
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.
Signs and Symptoms
Here are possible signs of cheating in kids. Of course, there always could be another explanation, so listen, but keep a watchful eye on your child.
- Your child has no test recall. She can't tell you what questions were on the test from that morning.
- There's a discrepancy between homework and grades. Your child does little studying but receives exemplary marks; she performs poorly on in-class assignments but does superior work on homework assignments.
- Your child nevver seeks help for schoolwork. She brings home little or no homework, claiming that she finished it already or that teacher doesn't give it. Might be cutting corners and not doing the work. (Of course, she also may be brilliant, or the work is far too easy. Find out the facts.)
- The teacher reports your child cheating. Don't be too quick to dismiss an adult's complaint.
- Your child can't explain content. She has no understanding of the details in the paper she "wrote."
- The work is just not her style. Uses words that are too sophisticated and that she can't define; there's a large disparity between the child's writing style and the paper: this just isn't your child's writing.
- Your child can't locate resources. She's unable to find or describe the resources used for the report.
- Your child is reluctant to show you her work. She hides her work or doesn't want you to read it.
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Identify the reason. Reflect on why your kid might be cheating (or thinking she should be allowed to get away it) so that you can create the best solutions. The following is a list of common reasons. Check those that apply to your child or situation:
- Is overscheduled and overwhelmed, leaving not enough study time
- Fears failing; is perfectionistic, insecure about abilities; hates to lose, appear to be a loser, or fail in front of others
- Is incapable of doing the work, struggling to keep up; has a learning disability; academic expectations are set too high
- Fears getting in trouble or punished for poor grades
- Doesn't want to disappoint you; cheats to get the grade to make parents happy
- Is taking the easy way out, cutting corners by not studying or putting out the effort
- Has an "Everyone else does it" attitude; cheating is rampant, putting your kid at an unfair disadvantage if she does not cheat; cheating is easy to get away with; no one holds her or other students accountable
- Is bullied or caving into pressure from another student to give her homework or answers
- Doesn't understand that cheating is wrong; honesty has never been emphasized
- Has poor study skills, or doesn't know how to write that paper
- Don't ignore reality. Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, studied cheating over two decades. He found that 64 percent of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds admitted they "collaborated" with other students when they were supposed to be working alone; 48 percent confessed they copied homework from someone else, and 87 percent said they had let someone else copy their homework.8
- Don't take a "not my kid" attitude—recognize that cheating is rampant. Open up the dialogue with your kid and acknowledge the pressure: "I know you're worried about your grades, and cheating must be enticing, but it's still not right." You can let your child know you're aware of her stress, but she needs to get the message that cheating isn't acceptable. This is also an opportunity to assess if your child feels too overwhelmed; perhaps something needs to give to relieve that pressure. Is there one activity your child can give up?
- Be an example. Your kids need to know that everyone is tempted to cheat, but honesty and hard work are always the better policy. Refrain from telling your kids how you cheated on your taxes or in your tennis game, or exaggerated a bit on your resume. Your child will interpret those actions as signs that cheating is acceptable. Make sure your example stresses the values you want your kids to copy.
- Step back! A study by Public Agenda found that one in five adults say they've done part of a child's homework assignment and think doing so is fair.9 Halt that urge to do—or redo—your kid's homework. Half of middle school kids think the practice is wrong.10 Those everyday little behaviors you do send moral messages to your kids.
- Emphasize effort. The biggest reason kids cheat is to get a better grade. So switch your emphasis to the effort she puts into her practice, chore, or report instead of offering a reward simply for a good grade. Recognize your child for working hard and maintaining positive study habits. Rewarding effort has long-term benefits: the child understands that success is the result of effort and honesty and that the process of learning is as enjoyable as its result.
- Get savvy about the Internet. A growing number of Web sites such as Schoolsucks.com provide free term papers on any subject; other sites offer them for a fee. One study found that almost half of all kids engage in "cut-and-paste plagiarism," and most parents are clueless.11 So monitor your child's online experience. Keep the computer in a central place and track the sites your child is visiting. Watch your credit card for any unexplained Web site costs. And if your child does write a report, read it! Check the vocabulary; if her word choice is too sophisticated, it's a possible red flag. Ask her to define the words as well as show you her sources (books, encyclopedias). If she can't provide them or describe the topic without the paper, chances are she cheated.
- Discuss the cons of cheating. Thirty-four percent of parents don't talk to their kids about cheating because they believe their child would never cheat.12 Don't make that mistake! Talk to your kid about the negative results of cheating. Here are a few important points to cover:
What is your best guess as to why your kid cheats? Is there one thing you can do to change this behavior?
Cheating can get you in serious trouble: probation, suspension, expulsion, or even criminal penalties, such as fines, tickets, and incarceration.
People won't trust you, and you get a bad reputation. No one will want to be your friend or do business with you.
It can become a habit, and you can reach the point where you feel you can't do anything without cheating both among your friends and in school.
It hurts other people and isn't fair to other students or people who play fair and stick to the rules.
If you get away with cheating, you can find yourself in a situation you are completely unqualified and unable to handle. Not only will you be in over your head, but you'll also know in your heart that you're a fraud.
If you don't learn the work now, you'll have even more trouble at the next grade level.
Please don't make the mistake of thinking that a one-time talk on such a serious subject will convince your kid that honesty really is the best policy. State your views over and over and look for teachable day-to-day moments to review why cheating is wrong.