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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Children and Teens Who Cheat in School

How can you get your child to stop cheating in school?

Moms and dads are often devastated when they find out that their youngster copied someone else's homework or
peeked over a classmate's shoulder during an exam. But it's actually more common than you think. According to a
2001 survey of 4,500 high school children, 97 percent of the respondents admitted to at least one activity that would
be considered questionable when it comes to academic integrity.

So why do so many young people cheat?

Most cheating episodes fall into one of two categories:

•        They just don't feel like doing the work. Technology can be a double-edged sword. The Internet, PDAs, and cell
phones help make kid’s lives more organized. But these gizmos have also made cheating a lot easier than it ever was
when we were in school. The Internet has spawned an entire industry dedicated to the "sharing" of prewritten papers.
And young people can e-mail answers to one another through PDAs. Some young people have a natural tendency to
do the least amount of work necessary to get something done. Now, it's easier than ever for them to pawn off someone
else's work as their own.

•        They're trying to live up to expectations. Young people are under a great deal of pressure to perform well in
school. Many young people believe that their entire future rests on their grades. If moms and dads or educators expect
them to always to perform exceedingly well, then cheating can become a self-defense mechanism under the strain of
this tremendous pressure. A youngster may feel that she has no other option than to cheat as a means of achieving

Most young people will tell you that they know cheating is wrong. While there is really no "good reason" for cheating,
understanding why young people cheat can help moms and dads begin to help their kids make better choices. There
are probably as many excuses for cheating as there are kids who cheat, but the following is a list of the most common
excuses kids give for cheating:
•   "Everyone else is doing it." When young people see other
kids cheating and not getting caught, it could make them
question the importance of honestly.
•   "School is hard." Cheating seems to offer an easy way out.
•   Young people don't like to lose. Learning how to lose is a
hard lesson.
•   Feeling overwhelmed with school work and extracurricular
activities. Many young people are so overloaded with
activities they don't think they have time to study.
•   Trying to please moms and dads or educators. Young
people may fear the results of getting poor grades. They
cheat in order not to get in trouble, or to make their moms
and dads happy.
•   With increased competition and harder coursework,
children may feel they have no choice but to cheat. Kids may
feel a great deal of pressure to get good grades so they can
get scholarships or to be accepted into a good college or
grad school.
Experts agree that the reasons vary, depending on the age of the youngster. Younger kids may look over another
youngster's paper, but don't see this behavior as dishonest. We see such behavior emerging in first or second grade,
when children are given increasing numbers of worksheets and the level of difficulty can cause them to feel
overwhelmed. The intention is not to cheat, but to keep up.

Conscious cheating starts around the age of 8 or 9, when young people can conceive that they are taking
responsibility for a piece of work. This coincides with the introduction of letter grades in many American schools, which
may cause children to feel greater pressure to succeed.

As one fifth-grader put it, "your parents tell you not to cheat, and you know you shouldn't cheat, but you feel pressured
because you also know that your parents feel that the grade is the most important thing."

As children move up through middle and high school, the pressure to succeed grows, coming not just from moms and
dads, but also from peers, from educators and school administrators, and from the need to get into a good college.
The general consensus among children is that “everybody cheats at least once - and that makes it OK.”

Young people may also cheat to help their buddies (by giving a paper to a friend who is going to be suspended from
the football team, for example) or they may behave in dishonest ways because they believe the school doesn't care.

How Children Cheat—

Just as the reasons for cheating vary, so do the methods. With younger kids, cheating mostly takes the shape of
copying another student's work. As kids get older and tests and homework build up, youngsters may be tempted to
take shortcuts. Two children may agree to do half the assignment each and share their answers, for example.

When groups of children take the same test at different times, the group that has taken it first can tell the second
group what to expect. "Even though you know that you shouldn't listen, how do you ignore information that is being
directly told to you?" says one fifth-grader. This example underlines both the temptation to and the ease with which
young people can share this kind of information.

Several middle- and high-school educators we interviewed brought up the issue of writing. Kids have to learn reporting
and writing skills. Before children begin a research project, teachers should always talk with them about how to
paraphrase an idea using their own words. In the lower grades, while young kids are learning these skills, plagiarism
may be inadvertent. In the upper grades, it is frequently intentional.

Internet plagiarism in particular appears to be a widespread and growing problem. One high school teacher found that
28 of her 118 sophomore children had stolen sections of their botany project off the Internet.

Educators around the country agree that technology has improved a student's ability to cheat. There are currently
more than 20 so-called "cheat sites" on the Internet, where children can download an entire paper on their chosen

In a 1999 study carried out by the Center for Academic Integrity in North Carolina, 75 percent of college children
surveyed on 21 U.S. campuses admitted to some Internet cheating. Programmable calculators are another example of
how technology is making cheating accessible to more children.

Parents’ Response—

If your youngster is caught cheating, you should consider yourself lucky. Now you have an opportunity to address the
issue directly. If your youngster is caught cheating, the first piece of advice is to be open-minded and go and hear
both sides of the story. Once you do, you may indeed find clear evidence that your youngster was cheating. Moms and
dads tend to be very embarrassed, and denial tends to be one of the first reactions.

Educational psychologists agree that it's important for moms and dads to recognize that the world will not end if their
youngster cheats, but that it does get more serious if cheating becomes a pattern. They urge moms and dads to try to
discover and address the root cause of their youngster's cheating.

There are many reasons to cheat, but ultimately only one reason not to cheat: integrity. It's a good starting point to
acknowledge with your youngster that it's hard to have integrity and that people make mistakes. Young people need to
have these limits made explicit for them.

They know that cheating is wrong. Every healthy conversation around plagiarism and academic dishonesty is really
about focusing on the kid's strengths. Young people want to do the right thing, but you need to connect the dots for
them. Kids don't want to misrepresent themselves, so you need them to see that this is exactly what they are doing
when they pass off someone else's work as their own.

Schools Response—

Educators should respond swiftly and frankly to cheating. They should call a spade a spade. This is dishonest; this is
taking someone else's work. Educators need to be more than "plagiarism police," she adds, they also need to discuss
the importance of respecting other people's ideas, and help young people aspire to honesty, taking pride in their own
work, and experiencing the joys of learning.

When it is so easy to download a paper from the Internet, there has to be a compelling reason for children not to do
these things. Educational experts agree that the real goal should be to help young people develop the dispositions of
mind and character that will stay with them for a lifetime, not just as practices for the classroom.

To help children understand what cheating is, elementary and middle schools often post specific lists: "You may call
and ask a friend what the homework is, but you may not have a friend do that homework" or "Your moms and dads can
go with you to help buy materials for a project, or help you if there is something dangerous about the project, but your
moms and dads should not do the project."

In most schools, the consequences for cheating are fairly standard. The first time a student is caught cheating he
receives a zero on that assignment and must have a conference with the teacher. In addition, there is a referral to the
administration resulting in a meeting with all the parties involved. For a second offense in the same school year, the
penalties get much more serious - the student may be removed from the class, receive a grade of "F" or become
ineligible for extracurricular activities.

What are the consequences of cheating?

The consequences of cheating can be hard to for a youngster to understand. Many times the perceived positives of
cheating can seem to outweigh the negatives. It is very important to talk to your kids about cheating before it becomes
a problem. Here are some messages to give your kids:

•   Cheating is a lie. It makes people believe you know more than you actually know.
•   Cheating lowers your self-respect.
•   Cheating violates the educators trust.
•   If you find it easy to cheat now in school, you may find it easier to cheat in other situations in life.
•   In the end, you cheat yourself. You cheat yourself out of learning and out of giving yourself a chance to see how
good you can really do.
•   It isn't fair to the other children who don't cheat.
•   People lose respect for people who cheat and think less of them.
•   Children who get caught cheating face serious consequences. Cheating young people can get in big trouble at
school and at home.
•   You may feel worried about getting caught and feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed.
•   You'll never how well you could have done without cheating. It robs you of your self-confidence.

What can moms and dads do?

•   Be a good role model. If your kids see you cheating on small things, like playing a game, cheating on your taxes, or
not being honest with the clerk at the grocery store, you are giving them the message that cheating is OK. Make
honesty a priority in your house.
•   Discuss peer pressure. Teach them ways to resist. Have this discussion regularly.
•   Discuss what cheating is. Very young kids don't understand what cheating is, but by the time they are in elementary
school they can understand the meaning of concepts like right, wrong, and fair. Have a discussion about what your
expectations are. Review the school policy on cheating. Let them know that cheating is unacceptable. Its best if you
can have this discussion before cheating becomes a problem.
•   Discuss why cheating is wrong and emphasize the negative consequences of cheating. Ignoring the problem gives
them the message that it's OK.
•   Don't put too much pressure on getting good grades. Let them know that learning and doing their best are more
important than earning good grades. Praise them for persistence and attitude. When at a sporting event, compliment
the sportsmanship and the effort of the players rather than focusing on who won or lost.
•   Find ways for your youngster to feel competent in other areas of their life. The more self confident they feel, the
less they'll need to win or achieve to build their self esteem.
•   Get involved in the learning process. Ask to see their schoolwork. Talk about what they're learning. Help them with
their homework but don't do it for them or give them the answers. Spend time with them doing fun activities, not just
educational activities.
•   If your youngster has cheated, find out why. You can just come right out and ask. It could be there is something
troubling him. If you find out the reason you youngster is cheating is a personal one, not only try to help them with the
problem, but also let the teacher know what is going on.
•   Look for ways the school can help promote the concepts of learning rather than just focusing on achievement.
Establish a relationship with the educators. Work with the schools to make changes if you think that is necessary. Talk
to the educators about how to help your youngster feel successful without feeling the need to cheat.
•   Remember that young people are not "bad" just because they cheated. Let them know that you're disappointed with
them, but that you still love them and that you're there to help.

What can educators do?

•   Focus on learning and not just on achievement. Because of the pressure of standardized tests, many educators
feel forced to teach to the test instead of teaching a youngster how to think.
•   Schools need to have a cheating policy and talk about it often.
•   Schools need to monitor cheating. Be alert to all the new forms of cheating that are available through technology.
There are some computer programs that actually help a teacher detect plagiarism. Forbid cell phones, PDA's, and
iPods in exam rooms.
•   Some schools have an honor code or a code of ethics. They have school assemblies discussing the importance of
honor, and even have each student sign a code of ethics.

Moms and dads or other caregivers are the strongest influence on the youngster. Tell your youngster often how proud
you are of them and how much you appreciate them, even when they make mistakes. Find ways to fill young people
with a love of learning.

Preventing Future Cheating—

While the majority of young people cheat from time to time, there are things a parent can do to prevent their youngster
from repeating this behavior. Here are some guidelines:

•   Let your youngster see you sweat. Young people value hard work because they see their moms and dads working
hard. If you don't cut corners, your youngster will learn not to.
•   Lower your expectations. A large percentage of young people who cheat are motivated by a desire to meet their
moms and dads' expectations. Let your youngster know that you love her and are proud of her even when she doesn't
win the spelling bee or gets a bad grade.
•   Nurture your youngster's desire to do the right thing. Young people like to feel good about themselves and what
they're doing. Encourage your youngster to value honesty, to feel pride in a job well done, and to foster love of
learning and knowledge for its own sake.
•   Set a good example. Take a good look at your own life. Do you or your spouse "cheat" from time to time? If a
cashier gives you too much change, do you return it? Have you told little white lies on your income taxes? Be aware
that those are the moral values you are teaching your youngster. Be sensitive to the examples you set.
•   Stress that winning isn't everything. Because our society puts so much emphasis on winning, moms and dads need
to counteract that message at home. Make sure your youngster knows that performing honestly and losing is more
honorable than cheating and winning.
•   Teach your youngster how to cope with failure. Let your youngster see that you too have ideals -- and sometimes
you fall short of them. Talk with him about how you cope with failure, so he learns how to handle it, too. It's fear of
failure that leads many young people to cheat.