I’ve had cheating on the brain this week because I’ve been
researching an article about creating cheating-free classrooms. A few
friends asked me to write about how parents can best address the topic
of academic dishonesty with children.
Students cheat for lots
different reasons, but chief among them are the competition for grades,
the pressure of high-stakes testing, the failure to prepare or
understand academic material, and, as reported in one study, the thrill
of “cheater’s high.” Whatever the reason, cheating ramps up during middle school,
where just over 60 percent of students reported cheating on exams and
90 percent admitted to copying another students’ homework, and peaks
during high school, where about 75 percent of students admit to having
committed acts of academic dishonesty.
Researchers in another study found that almost half of all students have committed “cut-and-paste plagiarism,”
lifting text from websites and passing it off as their own work. What I
find most disturbing, as a teacher and as a writer, is that more than
75 percent of undergraduate students believe that copying off the
Internet, whether through for-profit essay websites or cutting and
pasting snippets of text, is not a serious offense. In fact, as I was
researching this piece, I discovered one of my own published articles
for sale at a popular essay retail outfit (and to add insult to injury, I
was on sale for just $10 a page).
Despite these statistics, 34 percent of parents don’t talk to their kids about cheating because they don’t believe their children would cheat.
It would be lovely if those 34 percent of parents who don’t believe
their children would cheat happen to overlap with the parents of those
30 percent of undergraduates who are not cheating, but I hardly think
If you are ready to be honest with yourself and admit that
your child is likely to cheat sometime during her academic career, here
are some ways to turn that dishonest impulse into a valuable life
First and foremost, talk about academic dishonesty. Place
that elephant right in the middle of the room and describe it. Don’t
assume your child understands the difference between collaborating and
cheating, paraphrasing and plagiarism. Brush up on the definition of plagiarism
and the reason we give others credit for their work. Discuss the
realities of cheating: Academic dishonesty can destroy her reputation as
an honorable person, not to mention her relationships with teachers.
get to the root of the reasons behind the cheating. Find out why she is
cheating. Does she not understand the material? Has she asked her
teacher to clarify? Talk to her teacher about your concerns, and find
out if her teacher has any insights into the cheating, whether it’s to
gain a leg up on her peers or to get around having to ask for help. In
my experience, the most common parental response to an accusation of
student cheating is denial, so teachers will find this line of inquiry
refreshing. It will also go a long way toward reinforcing the
partnership between you and your child’s teacher.
conversation around school in terms of individual effort and personal
goals rather than grades and test scores, as competition fuels academic
dishonesty. Dissuade your child from comparing grades with her friends,
and teach her that learning is not a means to an end, but the end
Speaking of friends, if you discover your child talking
or texting with friends during homework time, ask whether or not her
teacher has given students permission to work together on assignments.
If she’s not sure, talk to the teacher about her guidelines regarding
collaboration and homework.
Think about your own involvement in
your child’s academics. Do you help your child with homework? One in
five adults admits that he has completed part of his child’s homework
assignment. Worse, adults that do this believe that helping their kids
with homework is fair. This is your child’s education, not yours; let
your child discover her own answers and keep your participation in her
homework to a bare minimum.
If your child has not been caught
cheating (yet), remind her that even when she gets away with it,
dishonesty undermines her future success. If she’s cheating, she isn’t
really learning the material, and she will be behind when the next unit
begins. In courses such as math or science, where one concept or skill
builds toward the next, students can get so far behind they are unable
Finally, if you catch your child cheating, don’t
cover for her. Take this opportunity, while she is still young and the
stakes are still low, to hold her accountable for the consequences of
her actions. Lisa Heffernan, writer of the parenting blog Grown and Flown, offers advice plucked from her own parenting:
it is a choice between cheating and a lower grade — take the D. I tried
to convince them that they would rather face my short-lived
disappointment with a poor grade rather than my devastation, humiliation
and sadness at my failures in parenting and their faulty moral compass.
I let them know that far from going to bat for them, if they were found
to be cheating, I would let them burn in the fires of both their
school’s and our home’s disciplinary hell.
is only a failure if there is no lesson learned in its commission, and
it is our job to help our kids locate that lesson amid the embarrassment
and reprisal. An episode of plagiarizing on a high school science
report will result in a zero and detention today, but later, out in the
professional world, that plagiarism can spell the end of a career.
Cheating may be endemic in our nation’s schools, but parents have the
power to reverse this trend, one family at a time.