I’m concerned about the amount of cheating that seems to be going on at my children’s high school. Both my kids say that it’s not uncommon to witness students looking off each other’s papers during exams or use their phones to help them during tests. Even worse, they say that when someone asks to cheat off you, the expectation is that you will. I have always tried to reinforce the importance of a good work ethic and the idea that not only is cheating wrong, it will catch up to you – but I’m worried that this message is getting less believable to my kids when they see their peers seemingly having no consequences for their actions. What can be done to curb cheating in kids and how can I reinforce to my children that honesty and hard work will pay off in the long run?
From the beginning of childhood, we teach kids that cheating is wrong. From playing board games to video games to neighborhood kickball, children learn early on what the rules are and what happens when someone violates them. Indeed, young children can be the first ones to call out a cheater.
Somewhere along the line however as kids grow older, the risk for cheating may outweigh the feared consequences. The possibility of being caught may be worth a good grade, a win or the praise from parents and other adults. Compounding the problem, our society can also send the message that it is important to win at any cost.
Why do some kids cheat? There may be several factors at play besides just not being prepared: pressure to succeed from parents, feeling stressed to keep up with classmates, embarrassment to ask for help or fear of disappointing teachers, parents, coaches, etc.
What can parents do to address the problem? Start by connecting with your child about what’s happening at school. When talking about grades, instead of asking “How did you do?” ask “How did you feel about the test? Are you happy with that grade?” When you ask the child how they feel about their work, they must think from a more intrinsic place – and hopefully develop an internal desire to perform well as opposed to simply wishing to please a parent, for example.
Try to talk about school without lecturing. Find out what classes may be causing your child stress and help them problem-solve for a solution. Teach kids how to identify areas where they struggle and help them learn how to ask for help when they need it.
Reiterate the importance of honesty and truthfulness in your own family. Make sure your children understand that these values are more important to you than a good grade (especially one that is not actually earned.) Also, clearly state the consequences you will enforce if they are found to be cheating.
In terms of dealing with the pressure of other students who want to cheat, help your child come up with strategies for how to respond in those situations. Sometimes nonverbal body language – turning away, blocking one’s paper – may be enough. Other times a more direct approach must be used, saying “No, you can’t look off my work” or “No, I don’t want to be involved.” While it may be tough to do, talk with your student about how to say these statements strongly and without apology.
Keep sending the message that honesty and hard work do pay off. Also, emphasize how we may not always see how someone who cheats suffers the consequences. At the end of the day, we all must live with the decisions we make and the person we are becoming.
Stephanie Lowe Burry is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with Centerpoint Counseling and Baume Psychological Services. She has nearly twenty years of experience helping adults, teens and children develop healthy skills to manage life’s challenges.