Parenting Solutions: Cheating (page 4)
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.
Step 2. Rapid Response
Do know that most kids will cheat at something, but whether they continue to do so often depends on how we respond. These responses help your child learn from this experience:
- Stay calm and do not overreact. Yes, it is hard, but it's the best way to respond. Chances are this is a minor, first offense and not some deep-seated psychological problem. Do let your child know you are disappointed and tell what you saw or heard. "I just saw you move the ball. That's cheating." "I reread your report, and you copied most of it straight off the Internet." Be brief: merely state your observation and stick to facts.
- Be private. It's best to cite your observations quietly in a one-to-one conversation rather than when your kid is with others. Public accusations of cheating usually only aggravate the situation, and your kid will most likely deny the accusation.
- Do not label your kid "a cheater." This is both unhelpful and counterproductive. Focus on the child's action, not her character. "Moving the ball is cheating." "Copying your friend's answers is cheating."
- Tell where you stand. Make it clear that cheating isn't how you want her to get the good grade or win the game, and that you expect honesty. "I expect you to do your own work and not copy your friend's answers." "I expect you to play by the rules."
- Hear your kid out. Try to determine the reason she copied her friend's work or plagiarized the report so that you can develop a solution if necessary. Does she feel overwhelmed with no time to study? Then create a solution by cutting one activity to make time. Does she say the class is way too hard? Set up a conference with the teacher.
- Assess her moral reasoning. Does she feel at all guilty? Does she apologize or say she will try not to let it happen again? Does she blame the teacher or peer and not take ownership? Does she say this isn't a big deal and that everyone else does it? If so, those are signals telling you to monitor not only your child's behavior but also her moral development. (See Not Knowing Right from Wrong, p. 191.) Your kid may need more intense honesty lessons. Although they will take time, don't deviate from that aim.
- Set a consequence for repeat cheating. If despite all your efforts your kid's cheating continues, or if this is a repeat offense, it's time to set a consequence and make your child accountable. For younger kids caught cheating in a game, simply stop playing. "That was cheating again. It's not fun to play when you don't play fair. I'm going to stop playing now, and we'll try again later." Older kids who cheat on tests or plagiarize reports should be required to redo the assignment. A Redbook magazine poll found that 65 percent of parents said they would alert the teacher if their kid cheated; 35 percent said they would keep quiet to protect their child.13 If you catch your child, call the teacher and make your kid face the consequences.
- Meet with the teacher. Find out what is really going on. Is your child prepared? Is she struggling and in need of a tutor? Is this a past problem? Or is she just taking the easy way out? Let your child know in no uncertain terms that you and the teacher will continue to monitor her schoolwork and that she will be held accountable for cheating. If she is accused, don't be so quick to blame the teacher. Instead, step back, be open minded, and gather the facts. As tough as this may be to hear, your child may be cheating.
- Seek help if the problem continues. If cheating still continues, spend some serious uninterrupted time with your kid coming to an agreement on how further cheating will be prevented. Chronic cheating can be a symptom of an emotional struggle, peer problems, a learning difficulty, or even a more serious antisocial behavior issue that should be addressed. Seek the advice of a trained mental health professional if cheating continues or intensifies. (See the Pay Attention to This! box.
Pay Attention to This!
When to Worry
As much as we'd like our kids always to follow the straight-and-narrow path of honesty, the fact is that cheating is a common (but inappropriate) child behavior. Almost any kid may bend the rules, so your role is to help your child recognize that honesty really is the best policy and to make sure that cheating does not become a habit. But there are times you should seek help for your child from a mental health counselor, a child guidance clinic, or a psychologist to help you decipher what's really triggering this behavior:
- Cheating habitual. Despite your efforts, your child's cheating is a chronic problem.
- Reputation at stake. Peers, teachers, coaches, or parents see your kid as dishonest and label her a "cheater."
- Other behavioral problems. Your child exhibits other troubling behaviors, such as stealing or lying, setting fires, acting out, bullying or being mean to animals or peers, acting defiant or aggressive.
- No guilt or remorse. Evidence shows that your child is cheating, but she lies to cover it, sees nothing wrong with her actions, and displays no shame or guilt.
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
- Teach the lacking skill so that your kid doesn't cheat. Is your child plagiarizing because she doesn't know how to write a report? Does she cheat because she doesn't know how to lose? Does she copy the other kid's homework because she doesn't have the study skills to do it on her own? Ask the teacher for suggestions on how to teach the missing skill, and if you don't know how to do it, consider hiring a tutor.
- Acknowledge honesty. Certainly we should tell our kids that it is important to be fair and honest. We also should let them know how much we appreciate their being truthful whenever they are. So do acknowledge your kid's honest efforts: "I really appreciate your honesty. I can count on you to say the truth." Do be sure to recognize her especially anytime she refuses to give in to peer pressure: "I know it was hard to say no to your friend. I admire how you stood up to him and told him he couldn't copy your paper."
- Teach ways to buck the temptation to cheat. Tweens especially feel the urge to give their homework or test answers to a peer, usually because of the need to fit in. Bullying is also rampant these days, so check to make sure your child is not being threatened to supply answers. Standing up to a peer is hard at any age, but particularly during the years of ten to fourteen (when cheating also begins to peak). Discuss strategies to help your kid stand up to peer pressure or teach a few of the ones that follow. Just make sure you help her rehearse them over and over until she can confidently use them on her own. (See also Peer Pressure, p. 373.)
- Say no firmly, then don't give in. Say no to the peer using a friendly but firm and determined voice.
- Repeat your decision. Repeat your decision several times: "No, it's not right," "No, it's not right." It makes you sound assertive and helps you not back down.
- Tell reasons why. Give the person the reason you're saying no so as to help strengthen your conviction not to proceed with what you've been asked to do: "I worked too hard to give you my paper." "It's against the honor code." "I could get a lower grade."
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Very young children do not understand the meaning of cheating and why they should stick to the rules, so they are prone to "bend" them in their favor. If you catch your child cheating, let her know you are aware of her tactics, and use gentle teaching (not punishment). Don't label the child a cheater, but instead emphasize why it is important not to cheat.
School Age These are the years when cheating may start; kids begin to break rules to win competitive games, and there are also more opportunities to cheat. Boys cheat more than girls.14 These kids are now beginning to understand right from wrong and fair and unfair, but not until the later school years will they really understand why it's wrong to cheat, though they may feel it is acceptable depending on the task. Although cheating is not unusual, act quickly so that it does not become a habit. Older school-age kids begin to feel pressure to "keep up" with extra activities (sports, lessons, chores, friends) and homework, so they may use cheating as a shortcut. If cheating becomes frequent, it is usually because of stress or another emotional issue that should be dealt with.
Tween The ages of ten to fourteen are peak cheating years largely due to the emphasis on grades and test scores and mounting academic pressures.15 Two-thirds of middle school students report cheating on tests, and 90 percent copy homework. 16 Cheating is often considered "cool" ("Everyone does it!"). Tweens may be intimidated into cheating because of their need to "fit in." Internet-related cheating and plagiarism become the quick way to do a report; kids also text test answers via cell phone or download answers to MP3 players. Over half the middle school students in one study confessed to having cheated on an exam in the past year.17
More Helpful Advice
Bringing Up Moral Children in an Immoral World, by A. Lynn Scoresby
Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, by Michele Borba
Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity and Other Essential Virtues, by Thomas Lickona
Teaching Your Children Values, by Linda and Richard Eyre
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, by David Callahan
The Moral Child: Nurturing Children's Natural Moral Growth, by William Damon
Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong, by William Kilpatrick