Is Your Child Cheating?

Student cheating during exam with formula inked on his palm
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Although some kids have always cheated in school, today's tech gadgets have made cheating easier than ever before. In a recent survey, 52 percent of teens said they have used the Internet to cheat, while 35 percent admitted to using cell phones to cut corners.

Many teens justify their actions by arguing that "everyone is doing it." And to a certain extent, they're right — most kids are doing it. A study by the Josephson Institute of Ethics shows how prevalent the problem has become. In a 2008 study, 64 percent of high school students admitted to cheating on a test that year. These students often do not even know that what they're doing is wrong, believing that "the end justifies the means." They may further rationalize their cheating by claiming that it's harmless because it doesn't affect anyone else.

How teens cheat

While low-tech methods are still used, such as notes concealed on the tongue of a sneaker or on the tail of a shirt, high-tech methods are becoming increasingly popular. A few of those methods include:

  • taking photographs of the test and e-mailing the photo to other students.
  • instant messaging, with a predetermined code, during tests.
  • programming math formulas or history dates into a graphing calculator.

Why teens cheat

Technology isn't the only motivating factor. David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture, believes it's also the result of a winner-take-all society where you're supposed to do whatever it takes to succeed. And well-meaning moms and dads unwittingly add to the problem when they push their children to excel.

Time pressures also contribute to cheating. Many kids are so overscheduled that they do not have time to effectively study for tests or complete their homework.

Kids who are bored also tend to cheat. Any student who sees no value in a class or a particular assignment is more likely to cut corners.

Elementary school children may initially cheat as a way to please a teacher or parent, but the pressure to cheat intensifies in middle school when grades are no longer expressed with smiley-face stickers and check marks. Now the letters A and F scream success or failure, and for the first time, kids discover that their performance is important. By high school, cheating is no longer the exception but the norm. Even intelligent kids may cheat to maintain their position at the top of the class. In the upper grade levels, there are typically two types of cheaters: poor performers desperate to pass and high achievers driven to get a 4.0 grade point average.

The cheating doesn't stop after a teen's high school graduation, either. The same habits are practiced throughout the college years, and recent media reports about banking, investors and politicians are evidence that dishonesty continues throughout the adult years. That's why parents need to play an active role in helping teens develop a biblical view of academic integrity. Let's take a look at what parents can do to encourage teens to live in a way that is honest and counter-cultural.

What's a parent to do?

Kids need to understand that ambition is fine, but honesty and integrity are more important. Knowing that technology helps kids refine their ability to cheat, parents need to clearly articulate that shortcuts are not desirable or acceptable.

We need to help our kids understand that cheating is a form of lying and stealing and it does affect others — both now and later. Cheating hurts honest students who must compete with their dishonest classmates for scholarships and other opportunities. And no one wants to go under the knife someday and discover that the surgeon cheated his way through medical school.

Teens need parents to emphasize honesty and integrity. They need to be taught that lying and cheating hurt relationships with peers, with adults and with God. They need to understand that the end does not justify the means. Cheating is always wrong in God's eyes (Deuteronomy 25:16; Luke 16:10) — and that's reason enough to avoid the temptation. 


How to prevent classroom cheating

The following are some ways to reduce the likelihood that your teen will cheat:

  • Model honesty. Your teen needs to see that you don't lie, cheat or steal.
  • Clearly communicate what constitutes cheating. An eighth-grader may not be aware that copying Internet material is considered plagiarism, and a high school student may not understand that allowing friends to copy homework is not really helping them.
  • Spell out what is unacceptable. Include a clear description of the consequences of cheating — both long- and short-term.
  • Check your Internet browser's history to see if your teen has visited websites that sell written papers. Confront her if she has. Consider locking your browser so the history cannot be cleared.
  • Refrain from emphasizing achievement. Such attitudes place pressure on kids to succeed.
  • Guard against overscheduling. Choose extracurricular activities carefully to make sure your child has adequate time for homework every evening.
  • Teach teens not to go along with the crowd. Study the Bible together to clarify God's perspective on issues such as integrity and honesty.
  • Pray for your teen. Ask God to give him the grace to be honest and to bring him accountability when he's not. Getting caught in the little things might keep him from trying to get away with the big things.

This article first appeared on ThrivingFamily.com in 2011. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2011 by Tammy Darling. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: The Value of Integrity

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