The Honest Truth About Cheating

By Kelly Goede

As children progress through school, they are required to show growth and improvement in their academic performance. With added pressure from a culture of high-stakes testing, children find themselves expected to perform well on state assessments. The focus has shifted from learning for mastery to fulfillment of standards, which has done nothing to help the age-old blight on students — cheating.

According to a survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools conducted by Professor Donald McCabe of Rutgers Business School, 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism, and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating (plagiarism on an essay, cheating on a test or copying homework). As parents, we cringe to think of our son or daughter being dishonest in any way, but we know it happens, and hopefully learning why will help it happen less often.

Why do kids cheat?

In order for a child to be prepared to take an exam or turn in a completed assignment, a complex series of events must occur, involving stages of brain development and behavior reinforcement. When an assignment is given, your child must engage in listening, transferring the spoken word into a meaningful understanding of what is expected (or read the written assignment and digest what is expected) and formulate a plan to begin to tackle it. He must decide how he is going to approach the assignment, and he brings his whole personality to the task — a child who is shy may not be inclined to ask questions, which can lead to a misunderstanding of the assignment, and a child who is disinterested in the topic may not be inclined to jump right in. And when the assignment comes due, some children do not budget their time to fit in completing the assignment — and, under pressure to perform, resort to copying from a friend. Add in access to technology, which gives students the ability to text answers to a friend, obtain someone else’s already written paper and copy and paste from expert articles, and cheating seems like a viable option to a student who feels backed into a corner.

What id your child is caught cheating?

After you move beyond anger and frustration, calmly approach your child and ask some open-ended questions, such as “Why did you cheat?” and “What could you have done differently?”

Clearly but calmly explain to him the seriousness of cheating and what the consequences are if cheating continues into college and beyond. Dr. Jill Geltner, school counselor, said that it is important to stress to your child that as he ages, the consequences for cheating become quite large and severe. In middle and high school magnet programs, getting caught cheating can mean removal from a program, as these programs have honor codes requiring honesty in academic situations. As a parent, Dr. Geltner suggests a meaningful consequence that will clearly communicate to your child the seriousness of cheating.

Above all, knowing that all kids make mistakes — and even cheat — means that you have many rich opportunities to teach and guide them. And just like schoolwork, teaching children to be honest does not come with shortcuts.