These days, it seems like cheating is everywhere, from the baseball diamond to the classroom. With stories of professional dishonesty and performance-enhancing drugs permeating the adult world, it’s no wonder that studies show academic cheating among children and teens on the rise. But while cheating on a test or plagiarizing an essay may seem a quick way to get a leg up, students are actually holding themselves back from the type of meaningful learning that will serve them best in life.
So how can parents keep kids from cheating in a society that seems to stress winning at any cost? According to Eric Anderman, Professor of Educational Psychology at The Ohio State University and co-editor of the book Psychology of Academic Cheating, the trick is to diminish the motivations that drive cheating in the first place.
“Kids cheat when they become stressed,” explains Anderman, who says that as the pressure to get good grades and high test scores increases, so does the incidence of cheating. Anderman says that although children who cheat in school do not fit any defined profile, they’re usually students “who are much more focused on getting good grades and extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically motivated by a desire to learn.”
That means that the more pressure students feel, the more likely they are to resort to cheating. And although pen-and-paper notes and other familiar methods are still very much in use, cell phones and PDAs have opened up new opportunities for students gunning for top grades. “Obviously with more technology there are more methods kids use to cheat,” says Anderman. Browsing the Internet during a test, texting solutions or taking photos of answer sheets and messaging them to friends are all possible in the digital age, and enforcement of no phone policies can be tough for teachers.
Using technology as a cheating aid may be new, but cheating has been around a long time, and it probably won’t go away anytime soon. However, there are things that parents can do to help make sure their children get the most out of their education by getting past the impulse to cheat.
Take Pressure Off
Kids often cheat because they see it as the only way to measure up to high expectations. Although it’s good to expect the most from your kids, make it clear that you expect them to do their best, not be the best.
Avoid Extrinsic Motivation
Praising your child every time he comes home with a good grade is standard parenting procedure, but make sure that you’re sending the right message. Avoid punishing your child for low grades and rewarding him for high ones. Instead, emphasize the concept of effort by recognizing the hard work he put into his work, and encouraging better effort in problem areas.
Talk About It
“One of the most important things parents can do is talk to kids about how they are feeling academically and whether they are feeling stressed,” says Anderman. Opening up a dialogue about tough classes does more than inform you about where your child is struggling: he’ll know that you’re on his side when it comes to that killer math test or demanding paper, and be more likely to come to you with problems rather then dealing with them the wrong way.
Prep for Peer Pressure
Whether your child is involved in cheating or not, she will feel pressure to participate from peers at school, from friends asking to copy a last minute lab report to students passing notes across her desk during a test. Make sure she knows that by saying “No” now, she’s not only helping herself, but helping others in the long run.
Know the News
Sports stars, politicians, and high-powered businesspeople are constantly in the news over all kinds of misbehavior, from doping and lying to insider trading and fraud. Use these cases as “teachable moments” to talk about moral values, and emphasize that even though some people act dishonestly to get ahead, it’s still not okay for you or your child to do the same.
Set a Good Example
Think your teen doesn’t notice what you do? Think again. Younger kids may mimic a parent’s behavior, but older adolescents will jump on hypocrisy wherever they see it. Either way, it’s best to be a role model for your kids, and that means putting the brakes on “white” lies and shortcuts to get what you want the easy way. Be sure to share personal stories about cheating and lying with your child, too: it’s important to show that you’re not so perfect after all!
Although pressure to perform is an increasing focus for students, your child shouldn’t feel that cheating is the only way to get ahead. Through hard work, good communication, and a desire to learn, your child will become a better learner and a better citizen for life.