Parenting Solutions: Cheating (page 2)

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

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.

The Solution

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
  • What is your best guess as to why your kid cheats? Is there one thing you can do to change this behavior?

  • 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 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:
  • 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.

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