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Cheating and Children

What is cheating?

Cheating is commonly defined as when a person misleads, deceives, or acts dishonestly on purpose. Cheating comes in many forms:

  • IPods and other MP3 players can be loaded with test answers instead of music.
  • Cell phones can access the Web to look up answers.
  • Students can purchase work such as term papers on the Internet.
  • Some students use crib notes. They sneak answers in on their hand, a piece of paper, or the bill of a baseball cap.
  • Children may copy someone else's work or answers.

One survey showed that 80% of students admitted to cheating at least once. Many educators believe that cheating has become an epidemic. In the age of school shootings and drug abuse, cheating is now seen as only a minor offense in comparison. However, the consequences of cheating can be serious and have long lasting effects on self esteem and achievement.

Why do kids cheat?

Most kids will tell you that they know cheating is wrong. While there is really no "good reason" for cheating, understanding why children cheat can help parents 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:

  • Trying to please parents or teachers. Kids may fear the results of getting poor grades. They cheat in order not to get in trouble, or to make their parents happy.
  • With increased competition and harder coursework, students 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.
  • "Everyone else is doing it." When kids 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.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with school work and extracurricular activities. Many kids are so overloaded with activities they don't think they have time to study.
  • Children don't like to lose. Learning how to lose is a hard lesson.

What are the consequences of cheating?

The consequences of cheating can be hard to for a child 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 children:

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

What can teachers do?

  • Schools need to have a cheating policy and talk about it often. 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.
  • Post specific guidelines for students, such as “Students may call and ask a friend what the homework is, but may not have a friend do the homework”.
  • Help children take pride in their work and in being honest. Help them focus on learning and not just on achievement. Despite the pressure of standardized tests, your goal is to teach each child how to think.
  • 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.

What can parents do?

  • Discuss what cheating is. Very young children 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. Talk 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. On the other hand,
  • If your child 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 child 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.
  • Remember that children 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.
  • 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. Play sports or games with the family to show your children how to compete without cheating.
  • 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.
  • 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 your child doing fun activities, not just educational activities.
  • Find ways for your child 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.
  • Discuss peer pressure. Teach them ways to resist. Have this discussion regularly.
  • Establish a relationship with the teachers. Talk to the teachers about how to help your child feel successful without feeling the need to cheat. Volunteer to help at school and get involved in parent/teacher groups.

If your child cheats on a test or homework, the punishment may include failing the assignment or test. You may also want to give your child a time-out or take away driving privileges from a teen. Punishments such as spanking or having your child wear a sign that says "I cheated" is not helpful. If your child continues to cheat, talk with a mental health professional. Getting help early may help avoid more serious problems later on.

Ask questions and get referrals from people you know and trust. You could check with:

  • Your healthcare provider
  • Your clergyman, school teachers, or school counselors
  • Friends or family members who have been in therapy
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your employee assistance program (EAP) at work
  • Local mental health or human service agencies
  • Professional associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-09-17
Last reviewed: 2012-07-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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